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Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Cryptome’s searing critique of Snowden Inc.

"The current corporate media business model of celebrity as an income producer and celebrity as a sensationalizing, titillating device for increasing the value of content is something we stay away from. It’s deeply cynical to sensationalize this trusted transaction, when someone come to you with a document and puts it forward to you."— Deborah Natsios, Cryptome

This week, John Young and Deborah Natsios, the founders of Cryptome, one of the world’s oldest and best-known repositories of leaked intelligence documents, quietly posted a URL to an interview they conducted on February 6 during a conference in Berlin, Germany.

Young and Natsios are introduced, correctly, as “renowned figures within a larger community people interested in keeping governments and institutions accountable, and using documents to do that.” But they also offer deep insights into the media and how it has handled revelations about U.S. intelligence and the National Security Agency. And their remarks, such as the quote above, clearly catch their host by surprise.

In the 18th minute, they issue a scathing rebuke of “celebrity” journalism as practiced, in their opinion, by The Intercept, the publication owned by Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media. The interview is worth hearing in its entirety, and I urge anyone who’s had questions and concerns about Edward Snowden and his relationship to The Intercept’s founding editors, Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill and Laura Poitras, to listen to it and carefully consider their arguments.

Why? Because Cryptome raises serious questions that nobody else on the left or in the media want to talk about, including how Omidar has created a business from Snowden’s cache; what exactly Snowden may have been doing while he was working for the CIA prior to his time at NSA (and what else he may have been doing at NSA itself); and why Snowden and The Intercept continue to proselytize for Tor, the anonymization tool, despite its massive funding from the U.S. government, the Pentagon and the national security state.

One of the most amazing moments comes when the host, Pit Shultz, grows nervous about how his questions are being answered. It’s a sad insight into how the libertarian left responds to any criticism of its heroes and the arrogance and vitriol that’s been thrown to people who’ve raised questions about Snowden, Tor or Omidyar’s operations. To his credit, Shultz soldiers on – but only after Natsios assures him that “robust debate” is crucial to democracy.

Cryptome’s critique, as expressed in the interview, is not new. Ever since Greenwald first wrote about Snowden’s documents in The Guardian in 2013, the organization has been keeping careful track of the glacial pace of the documents’ release and The Intercept’s almost-total control over the cache. Their latest tally, posted this week, is 6,318 pages of what The Guardian first reported as 58,000 files.

From the start, Young and Natsios made it clear that they strongly disapprove of the fact that this cache has not been made widely available to the public and posted for all to see – as they have done with the tens of thousands of intelligence files they have released since the late 1990s (and as Daniel Ellsberg did with the Pentagon Papers). Take a look at how Gawker, a publication very friendly to The Intercept, reported on Cryptome in June 2013:

When the Guardian and Washington Post published their blockbuster NSA reports based on Ed Snowden’s leaks, journalists lined up conga-style to congratulate them on the scoops. Not Cryptome. Instead, the secret-killing site blasted the Guardian and Post for only publishing 4 of the 41 slides that Snowden gave them about PRISM, the NSA’s system for spying on the internet.
“Mr. Snowden, please send your 41 PRISM slides and other information to less easily cowed and overly coddled commercial outlets than Washington Post and Guardian,” Cryptome wrote in a June 10th dispatch titled “Snowden Censored by Craven Media.”
To longtime followers of Cryptome, this response was unsurprising. Before Wikileaks, before Ed Snowden, there was Cryptome. Manhattan-based architects John Young and Deborah Natsios founded in 1996 as a repository for documents no one else would publish, including lists of CIA assets, in-depth technical schematics of sensitive national security installations, and copyrighted material. As leaking has created a vibrant media ecosystem in recent years, complete with favored outlets, journalists and sources, Cryptome has positioned itself as its curmudgeonly ombudsman, quietly but blisteringly cutting down the hype and blather it sees in its competitors while advocating a form of radical transparency as straightforward as’s bare-bones website.
Until now, however, I’ve never seen an analysis like this. What follows is my transcript of key parts of the interview.

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