Kevin Ryan Has Unfairly Smeared Edward Snowden

January 5, 2014

Kevin Ryan’s recent article, “Flirting with Sauron: The Risks of Trusting the Snowden Story” seriously and unfairly tarnishes the integrity of a likely hero, wrongly calling Edward Snowden a liar. By first misreading and then altering a Guardian quote from Snowden, Ryan claims falsely to have caught Snowden in a flagrant lie. Ryan then (mis)uses that “lie” to impugn and impeach Snowden’s credibility, effectively implicating Snowden as a co-conspirator or principal in Greenwald’s ostensibly shady self-serving dealings with Paypal billionaire Pierre Omidyar.Ryan’s article presents no new facts or insights about Glenn Greenwald’s questionable behavior, nor any legitimate basis for linking Edward Snowden to Greenwald’s putative misbehavior in any way except as its victim. Rather than clarifying or adding anything to the questions already raised by others, especially Sibel Edmonds, Ryan’s article does essentially nothing beyond unfairly smearing Snowden, who deserves better treatment than this.

Kevin Ryan owes Edward Snowden a public apology. But rather than apologizing for his mistake and withdrawing the article, Ryan has refused to reexamine his work. Sadly, my efforts to explain Ryan’s error to him in an extended email exchange have been met with nothing but his peremptory denials that he erred. Thus, in fairness to Edward Snowden, I describe Ryan’s mistake below and attempt to correct the public record myself.

A careful reading of Ryan’s own source, an article by Glenn Greenwald in The Guardian, shows his elementary misquoting of Snowden and the implausibility of Ryan’s interpretation of Snowden’s actual statement.

Ryan wrote:

It was originally reported that the number of documents Snowden had stolen was in the thousands. Today, however, that number is said to be nearly two million. This calls into question Snowden’s early statement, as reported by Greenwald, that he “carefully evaluated every single document… to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest.” The huge, new number also reveals that less than one tenth of one percent of the documents (only about 900) have actually been released to the public.

How could Snowden have “carefully evaluated every single” one of what is now being said to be nearly two million documents? He only worked for Booz Allen Hamilton for a few months. According to NSA Director Keith Alexander, Snowden also worked directly for NSA for twelve months prior to that, which is interesting. But still, that would require carefully evaluating thousands of documents a day during that entire time. Didn’t he have a job apart from that?

But Ryan has misquoted Snowden. This is what Greenwald wrote:

Snowden said that he admires both Ellsberg and Manning, but argues that there is one important distinction between himself and the army private, whose trial coincidentally began the week Snowden’s leaks began to make news.”

“I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest,” he said. “There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over, because harming people isn’t my goal. Transparency is.”

He purposely chose, he said, to give the documents to journalists whose judgment he trusted about what should be public and what should remain concealed.

Greenwald wrote his article on June 9, 2013 shortly after he met Snowden in Hong Kong. Greenwald’s article indicates that Snowden at least initially had entrusted to him only a portion of the documents that Snowden had taken.

… In a note accompanying the first set of documents he [Snowden] provided [to Greenwald], he wrote …

Elsewhere Snowden had contrasted himself with Julian Assange who Snowden believed had dumped everything into the public domain without concern for the harm it might cause. Thus, Snowden was saying that he carefully reviewed every single document that he had disclosed to the public, but he was not saying that he reviewed every single document that he had taken or that he would give to journalists that he trusted.

Ryan’s quote omits the crucial “I disclosed.” These two words function as a restrictive clause, i.e., they limit Snowden’s statement to the modest claim that every document he had by that point in time disclosed to the public he had first “carefully evaluated.” There is absolutely nothing in the quote even to suggest that Snowden is claiming to have carefully reviewed all the documents that he had taken.

In our email exchange, Ryan wrote:

Either Snowden disclosed all the documents or he did not disclose any.

Try as I will to make sense of this I cannot, as it defies elementary logic, and I am not trying to quote Ryan out of context. One would think that Snowden might have disclosed some but not all the documents to the public, since this is what Greenwald said he did in the same Guardian article that Ryan cites:

The Guardian, after several days of interviews, is revealing his identity at his request. From the moment he [Snowden] decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, he was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity.

Snowden presents himself as having willfully challenged the National Security Administration, understanding full well that he would likely become another Man without a Country, not for betraying his nation, but by standing up for it and its putative values. Snowden stated openly that he might be rendered or assassinated, and that at best if captured he would likely spend the rest of his life in prison if he were not sentenced to death. While of course we should remain open to any evidence-driven possibilities that Snowden’s real story is not what it appears to be, in the absence of such evidence his apparent courage deserves our respect and not a warrantless act of character assassination based on a misquotation.

Michael B. Green, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist
Qualified Medical Examiner (1992-7/2006, retired)
Former Assistant Professor of Philosophy
University of Texas at Austin



8 Comments to “Edward Snowden did NOT lie: Michael Green responds to Kevin Ryan”

  • Because I never wrote that Snowden lied, or had anything to do with the ever-changing estimates of the number of documents, we appear to be in agreement on that invention.

    As this important mainstream media story evolves, questions should be raised about whether earlier aspects of that story continue to be valid.

  • “Thus, Snowden was saying that he carefully reviewed every single document that he had disclosed to the public, but he was not saying that he reviewed every single document that he had taken or that he would give to journalists that he trusted.”

    What on earth does this mean? Snowden has not disclosed to the public anything except what has been given to the journalists that he trusted. Greenwald, his veritable spokesperson, has insisted on Snowden’s careful reading of the documents Snowden gave him again and again. From Janet Reitman’s recent Rolling Stone hagiography:

    “Greenwald had no doubt that the leaker had read every page; not a single one was misfiled. “It’s 1,000 percent clear that he read and very carefully processed every document that he gave us by virtue of his incredibly anal, ridiculously elaborate electronic filing system that these USB sticks contained.”

    I agree, however, that Ryan is foolish to base his case on the government’s word, especially since there is no need of that. Even if you use the trove sizes reported by the people and institutions holding the documents themselves, the idea that Snowden read every document falls to pieces. The subset held by the New York Times alone is over 50,000. Factoring in the additional documents that Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Barton Gellman have, and what Greenwald has said about them, suggests the full trove is probably in the neighborhood of 70,000 documents. Even if Snowden had begun reviewing documents in 2009 when he first became a contractor, and every single document he looked at had been selected for inclusion, he would have needed to review 70 documents a day. Remember, these are documents, not pages, which Greenwald has described as ‘very detailed and very long.’ By most accounts, Snowden began downloading documents in 2012, which makes the legend of his meticulousness even more dubious.

    I find it amusing that the Snowden Spectacle is alleged to signify some renaissance in investigative journalism, when not a single journalist i’m aware of, including you, apparently, has bothered to review the full record or statements on the trove size and crunch the numbers. You’re doing PR, not journalism.

  • Fair point Kevin, you simply stated that “This brings into question Snowden’s earlier statements” which is a fair and polite statement. I do think yourself and Sibel might be overly skeptical of the Snowden story and I think in your position you both might be more inclined to find spooks where there are none, considering your personal experiences. There seems to be some confusion though about what “disclosed” means.

    My view, is that there has been an enormous amount of exaggeration and obfuscation by the establishment on these matters. Particularly how many documents are supposed to be in Snowden’s possession, and how many of these have in fact been passed on to third parties such as Greenwald, who incidentally answers many of our concerns here:

    http://utdocuments.blogspot.com.br/2014/01/email-exchange-with-reader-over-first.html

    What we haven’t heard yet, is what Pierre Omidyar himself has to say on the subject: for instance his ostensible about face compared with Bradley/Chelsea Manning or his other possible conflicts of interests. I think that Greenwald has made a tactical decision to get involved with something that is both funded and will not hinder him with editorial strictures as explicit in the article above.

  • good

  • “Elsewhere Snowden had contrasted himself with Julian Assange who Snowden believed had dumped everything into the public domain without concern for the harm it might cause. ”

    I would be interested in knowing your source for this claim. I think I have read every statement made by Snowden to the press and I am not aware of him ever having compared himself to Julian Assange. He, Gellman, and Greenwald have, however, compared him numerous times to Chelsea Manning, whom they falsely portray as having dumped her documents unreviewed, in bulk, via Wikileaks. The record on this could not be more clear. Seems it was part of a strategy to make of him The Good Whistleblower and it seems to have worked.

  • Though I took a different tack, I too tried to reason with Ryan asking him to question his global criticisms. It is one thing to question Greenwald and his slow release of documents as well as his associations with Omidyar and in general to keep an eye on those who claim to have our interests at heart, but, I wondered, is it good for the psyche of the public to malign obviously good men in a time that is given to such darkness and the secrecy that so often hides it?
    I do not know Kevin Ryan, but like so many public figures who only want to have their private opinions hold sway in and over the public mind, he did not show any interest in responding to my points as I made them. This seemed to me to be either provincial or insincere. Frankly I thought it was defensive and lacked the spirit of true dialogue. Questions, good sincere questions need to be answered. When that does not happen there us usually something else going on. I don’t now what this is in Ryan’s case but it is certainly not a dialogue as you yourself discovered. What did the old wise man once say, “of the making of many blogs, there is no end.” I don’t know but perhaps Ryan has rushed, precipitously, out into the limelight and before he is fully prepared.
    Jay Warren Clark, professor of philosophy and religious studies, San Diego State University, retired.

  • I apologize for not responding sooner to the very good points of Tarzie, with which I am largely in agreement. I am not a blogger and had paid no attention to the fact that Mark Crispin Miller’s site had comments, and only noticed now that some had been made to my post.

    Even decent newspaper articles are often rushed pieces of jumbled quotes with contexts only partially given, if that. Obviously, one would like to slow down and expand the Sunday 9 June 2013 Guardian Q&A interview with Snowden “Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations” to ask, e.g., “You say that you carefully reviewed every single document that you disclosed; please clarify to whom these were disclosed.” “Did you carefully review every document in the first batch that you turned over to the journalists?” “How many documents were in that batch?” “How many batches of documents did you turn over to the journalists?” “How many documents total were there?” “How many total pages are there to these documents?” “Did you review each document before turning it over to the journalists?” “How carefully did you review each document? What counts as a careful review?” “You say that you rely on the journalists to decide which should be published. Does that mean that even though because you have reviewed them all as being in the public interest, you trust the journalists to decide which amongst them will be of most value? Or have you turned over some documents without reviewing them and rely on the journalists to determine which are in the public interest?” But regrettably we are not able to do so. Worse, since the article is presumably written by the journalists to whom Snowden turned over his documents, it is remarkably unclear, e.g., the Q&A format would better be dropped for statements from Greenwald and Poitras that “Snowden told us that he had reviewed every document turned over to us.” OR “Snowden told us that he had reviewed every document in the first batch he turned over to us, and had excluded sensationalist or harmful materials, but that he relied on us to exclude such material from subsequent batches.” OR, Something else.

    The source of the obscurity is Greenwald, who seems to lack both lawyerly and reportorial skills for asking basic questions, as evident in Janet Reitman’s Rolling Stone article of December 4, 2013,

    “How long had the source been planning this?” Greenwald thought. Just the organization of the material alone would have taken months, if not longer. Each memory stick had an elaborate filing system. “On the front page were, let’s say, 12 files. You click on one of the files and there are 30 more files. You click on one of those files and there are six more, and finally you got the documents. And every last motherfucking document that he gave us was incredibly elegant and beautifully organized.” Greenwald had no doubt that the leaker had read every page; not a single one was misfiled. “It’s 1,000 percent clear that he read and very carefully processed every document that he gave us by virtue of his incredibly anal, ridiculously elaborate electronic filing system that these USB sticks contained.” (Emphasis added.)

    Reitman’s article makes plain that this is a thought that Greenwald has, and inference he has made, about what Snowden did. It occurs to Greenwald after he has received documents from, but before he has met Snowden, in fact these occur while Greenwald is in flight to meet him. After meeting Snowden, “Greenwald spent every day with Snowden for the next two weeks, interviewing him in the morning, breaking off to write, going back later in the day, and frequently continuing their conversations online.” All this detailed interviewing occurs before the first Guardian piece on the leaks dated June 5, 2013, and thus before the June 9, 2013 article that still leaves his readers muddled about whether Snowden vetted every document that he turned over to the reporters.
    As for Kevin Ryan, in a subsequent January 12, 2014 blog entitled “Greenwald Responds to Critics, Rejects Conspiracism” Greenwald Responds to Critics, Rejects Conspiracism,” Ryan quotes the Reitman article, “he [Snowden] read and very carefully processed every document that he gave us” from the boldface text above to claim that Greenwald is reporting what Snowden told him when in fact it is what Greenwald infers and concludes before he meets Snowden. Ryan then comments, almost delusionally, “The author [Michael Green] called for a public apology until he realized that it was his own error that required an apology (cue crickets).”
    I am guilty of carelessness in construing Snowden in saying “I disclosed” as meaning “disclosed to the public.” I had in mind that he had carefully vetted the first batch of documents that he disclosed to the reporters of being suitable for public distribution, and turned over the rest relying on their judgment. The Greenwald June 10 MSNBC appearance you cite on your blog again has Greenwald avoiding stating what Snowden told him; instead it offers up what Greenwald would answer if asked, i.e., that he would say that he had indeed carefully vetted every document, which is doubly disturbing because Greenwald declines to declare that this is what Snowden told him and because, as you suggest, the document count seems too high to permit careful review. Of course, there is always room for a lawyerly wriggle re “carefully reviewed” and other terms of art regarding Snowden’s sorting process.

    My claim that Snowden had contrasted himself with Assange devolves from the 9 June 2013 Guardian quote. “Snowden said that he admires both Ellsberg and Manning, but argues that there is one important distinction between himself and the army private, whose trial coincidentally began the week Snowden’s leaks began to make news.” Because Assange has been labelled – leave aside its truth – as nothing but a dumper of whatever information is given him, including what Manning gave him, I reasonably took this as Snowden differentiating himself from Manning/Assange by saying that he carefully vetted some of the documents that he turned over to journalists, and in any case chose “responsible” journalists to do whatever other vetting was needed, unlike Manning providing his documents to Assange. This may well be, or have been, Snowden’s view of Manning. i.e., I am not in a position to say, but at least here Greenwald does declare that this is what Snowden told him. (Apparently it is the case per a video clip on your December 12, 2013 blog, “Good Whistleblower/Bad Whistleblower.”) It offended me at the time, and continues to offend me, for reasons that you have well elaborated on your blog.

    Like Professor Clark, I am struck by how non-responsive and largely irrelevant most of Ryan’s private and public replies have been but chalk it up to personal peculiarities of Ryan rather than the corruption of fame. Despite this, some of Ryan’s work continues to be interesting and informative, but it is not reliably and consistently sound.

  • I apologize for not responding sooner to the very good points of Tarzie, with which I am largely in agreement. I am not a blogger and had paid no attention to the fact that Mark Crispin Miller’s site had comments, and only noticed now that some had been made to my post.

    Even decent newspaper articles are often rushed pieces of jumbled quotes with contexts only partially given, if that. Obviously, one would like to slow down and expand the Sunday 9 June 2013 Guardian Q&A interview with Snowden “Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations” to ask, e.g., “You say that you carefully reviewed every single document that you disclosed; please clarify to whom these were disclosed.” “Did you carefully review every document in the first batch that you turned over to the journalists?” “How many documents were in that batch?” “How many batches of documents did you turn over to the journalists?” “How many documents total were there?” “How many total pages are there to these documents?” “Did you review each document before turning it over to the journalists?” “How carefully did you review each document? What counts as a careful review?” “You say that you rely on the journalists to decide which should be published. Does that mean that even though because you have reviewed them all as being in the public interest, you trust the journalists to decide which amongst them will be of most value? Or have you turned over some documents without reviewing them and rely on the journalists to determine which are in the public interest?” But regrettably we are not able to do so. Worse, since the article is presumably written by the journalists to whom Snowden turned over his documents, it is remarkably unclear, e.g., the Q&A format would better be dropped for statements from Greenwald and Poitras that “Snowden told us that he had reviewed every document turned over to us.” OR “Snowden told us that he had reviewed every document in the first batch he turned over to us, and had excluded sensationalist or harmful materials, but that he relied on us to exclude such material from subsequent batches.” OR, Something else.

    The source of the obscurity is Greenwald, who seems to lack both lawyerly and reportorial skills for asking basic questions, as evident in Janet Reitman’s Rolling Stone article of December 4, 2013,

    “How long had the source been planning this?” Greenwald thought. Just the organization of the material alone would have taken months, if not longer. Each memory stick had an elaborate filing system. “On the front page were, let’s say, 12 files. You click on one of the files and there are 30 more files. You click on one of those files and there are six more, and finally you got the documents. And every last motherfucking document that he gave us was incredibly elegant and beautifully organized.” Greenwald had no doubt that the leaker had read every page; not a single one was misfiled. “It’s 1,000 percent clear that he read and very carefully processed every document that he gave us by virtue of his incredibly anal, ridiculously elaborate electronic filing system that these USB sticks contained.” (Emphasis added.)

    Reitman’s article makes plain that this is a thought that Greenwald has, and inference he has made, about what Snowden did. It occurs to Greenwald after he has received documents from, but before he has met Snowden, in fact these occur while Greenwald is in flight to meet him. After meeting Snowden, “Greenwald spent every day with Snowden for the next two weeks, interviewing him in the morning, breaking off to write, going back later in the day, and frequently continuing their conversations online.” All this detailed interviewing occurs before the first Guardian piece on the leaks dated June 5, 2013, and thus before the June 9, 2013 article that still leaves his readers muddled about whether Snowden vetted every document that he turned over to the reporters.

    As for Kevin Ryan, in a subsequent January 12, 2014 blog entitled “Greenwald Responds to Critics, Rejects Conspiracism” Greenwald Responds to Critics, Rejects Conspiracism,” Ryan quotes the Reitman article, “he [Snowden] read and very carefully processed every document that he gave us” from the boldface text above to claim that Greenwald is reporting what Snowden told him when in fact it is what Greenwald infers and concludes before he meets Snowden. Ryan then comments, almost delusionally, “The author [Michael Green] called for a public apology until he realized that it was his own error that required an apology (cue crickets).”

    I am guilty of carelessness in construing Snowden in saying “I disclosed” as meaning “disclosed to the public.” I had in mind that he had carefully vetted the first batch of documents that he disclosed to the reporters of being suitable for public distribution, and turned over the rest relying on their judgment. The Greenwald June 10 MSNBC appearance you cite on your blog again has Greenwald avoiding stating what Snowden told him; instead it offers up what Greenwald would answer if asked, i.e., that he would say that he had indeed carefully vetted every document, which is doubly disturbing because Greenwald declines to declare that this is what Snowden told him and because, as you suggest, the document count seems too high to permit careful review. Of course, there is always room for a lawyerly wriggle re “carefully reviewed” and other terms of art regarding Snowden’s sorting process.

    My claim that Snowden had contrasted himself with Assange devolves from the 9 June 2013 Guardian quote. “Snowden said that he admires both Ellsberg and Manning, but argues that there is one important distinction between himself and the army private, whose trial coincidentally began the week Snowden’s leaks began to make news.” Because Assange has been labelled – leave aside its truth – as nothing but a dumper of whatever information is given him, including what Manning gave him, I reasonably took this as Snowden differentiating himself from Manning/Assange by saying that he carefully vetted some of the documents that he turned over to journalists, and in any case chose “responsible” journalists to do whatever other vetting was needed, unlike Manning providing his documents to Assange. This may well be, or have been, Snowden’s view of Manning. i.e., I am not in a position to say, but at least here Greenwald does declare that this is what Snowden told him. (Apparently it is the case per a video clip on your December 12, 2013 blog, “Good Whistleblower/Bad Whistleblower.”) It offended me at the time, and continues to offend me, for reasons that you have well elaborated on your blog.

    Like Professor Clark, I am struck by how non-responsive and largely irrelevant most of Ryan’s private and public replies have been but chalk it up to personal peculiarities of Ryan rather than the corruption of fame. Despite this, some of Ryan’s work continues to be interesting and informative, but it is not reliably and consistently sound.

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