Two Years After Snowden's Revelations, Western Officials Still Anonymously Claim Unproven Harms
And some journalists are more than happy to let them.
Can Edward Snowden have "blood on his hands" despite a subsequent admission that nobody has actually been harmed as a result of his leaks about the overbroad, privacy-destroying surveillance tactics of Western powers like the United States and the United Kingdom?
Painting such a picture certainly appears to be the goal of a bunch of unidentified British "senior government sources" that told the Sunday Times (paywalled) in the United Kingdom that the Russian and Chinese governments have gotten their hands on the files that Snowden had copied from the United States and have cracked the encryption, allowing them to read (allegedly) millions of Western intelligence documents.
To be clear, no actual sources are named in the story. No actual evidence is provided to show that this claim that the British government has had to pull agents out of the field to protect them from the Russians and the Chinese is true. And the newspaper seems happy to have just carried water for the government. There is no evidence they attempted to contact Edward Snowden (or even Glenn Greenwald, who reported the initial stories). In fact, the story even vaguely floats this unattributed, explosive claim:
It is not clear whether Russia and China stole Snowden's data, or whether he voluntarily handed over his secret documents in order to remain at liberty in Hong Kong and Moscow.
Greenwald took to The Intercept to blast this poor reporting, also pointing out factual errors made in the piece (ignoring that Snowden ended up stuck in Russia not by choice but because the United States canceled his passport and completely misreporting that Greenwald's boyfriend had been detained in London after visiting Snowden in Russia—he actually had been in Berlin). Greenwald responds to the overwhelming granting of anonymity to government officials to smear Snowden:
The beauty of this tactic is that the accusations can't be challenged. The official accusers are being hidden by the journalists so nobody can confront them or hold them accountable when it turns out to be false. The evidence can't be analyzed or dissected because there literally is none: they just make the accusation and, because they're state officials, their media-servants will publish it with no evidence needed. And as is always true, there is no way to prove the negative. It's like being smeared by a ghost with a substance that you can't touch.
This is the very opposite of journalism. Ponder how dumb someone has to be at this point to read an anonymous government accusation, made with zero evidence, and accept it as true.
The Guardian, which reported the first Snowden stories, has its own questions for the government officials anonymously making these claims. The lack of actual "journalism" that took place in the Sunday Times piece ended up highlighted in an unintentionally hilarious and awful interview with one of the reporters, Tom Harper, on CNN Sunday. Harper is absolutely unable to delve further or explain further any of the claims made in his story. He cannot actually explain what evidence exists for any of the claims his story put forth and at one point actually says, "We just publish what we believe to be the position of the British government at the moment."
Journalism, ladies and gentlemen.