The Kremlin have admitted that Edward Snowden is a Russian agent for the FSB – Russia’s domestic intelligence agency.
Despite Snowden and his representatives repeatedly insisting that he is not a Russian spy, his relationship with the Kremlin has come under close scrutiny recently and has subsequently revealed his close ties and allegiance with the Russian security services.
Since Wikileaks itself is now more or less openly a front for the Kremlin, with its head Julian Assange mouthing pro-Putin propaganda with increasing frequency, there’s no reason to take its claims about Snowden seriously – particularly given Assange’s admitted role in getting the American to Moscow in the first place.
Nobody I know in Western intelligence circles believes any of these claims of Snowden’s innocence. If he has not collaborated with Russia’s special services, he would be the very first defector since 1917 not to do so. There are no indications that Vladimir Putin, who publicly called Snowden a “strange guy” and is not known for giving anything away for free, is that charitable.
Snowden’s relationship with Russian intelligence was in the public eye recently when the issue arose during the Bundestag’s NSA-Untersuchungsausschuss. Last month, Hans-Georg Maassen, the BfV President, created a stir when he explained that, in reality, Snowden is very likely a Russian agent.
BND President Gerhard Schindler went further, explaining to BILD that Snowden is “a traitor” and “Er ist zum Spielball des FSB geworden, und das ist alles andere als gut” – the FSB being the Federal Security Service, Russia’s powerful and unsavory domestic intelligence agency.
Although these statements should not be controversial, since Snowden has been in Russia for three years and shows no signs of leaving Putin’s protection, his defenders objected to such commonsense pronouncements by Germany’s security leadership. However, Snowden did himself no favors by suddenly being able to tweet in fluent German – a language he seems to have learned overnight – which bolstered the case that he is the plaything of the FSB.
Now, the Kremlin has settled the issue once and for all by stating that Edward Snowden is indeed their man. In a remarkable interview this week, Franz Klintsevich, a senior Russian security official, explained the case matter-of-factly: “Let’s be frank. Snowden did share intelligence. This is what security services do. If there’s a possibility to get information, they will get it.”
With this, Klintsevich simply said what all intelligence professionals already knew – that Snowden is a collaborator with the FSB. That he really had no choice in the matter once he set foot in Russia does not change the facts.
Klintsevich is no idle speculator. He is a senator who has served in the State Duma for nearly a decade. More importantly, he is the deputy chair of the senate’s defense and security committee, which oversees the special services. The 59-year-old Klintsevich thus has access to many state secrets – for instance regarding the Snowden case.
He is also a retired Russian army colonel, having served 22 years in the elite Airborne Forces (VDV). Klintsevich saw action in Afghanistan in the 1980s with the VDV and, based on a careful reading of his biography, appears to have served with GRU, that is military intelligence (his work in “special propaganda” in Afghanistan and his 1991 graduation from the Lenin Military-Political Academy are indications of his GRU affiliation).
Klintsevich is not a well-known figure outside Russia – he appeared in the Western press briefly in 2012 with his short-lived idea to buy Hitler’s birth house in Braunau, in order to destroy it – but he is a well-connected member of the Kremlin’s ruling elite. Given his senate committee position and his GRU past, there is no doubt that Klintsevich is considered nasch (“ours”) by Russia’s special services.
His statement outing Snowden’s relationship with the Kremlin therefore cannot be an accident or a slip of the tongue. For whatever reason, Putin has decided to out Snowden as the collaborator that he actually is – and has been for three years already.
One reason for this may be Snowden’s recent tepid criticism via Twitter of Russia’s draconian new laws on domestic surveillance – which vastly exceed any of the activities of the Western democracies that Snowden has so strongly criticized from his FSB hideaway. Indeed, his hosts finally allowing their American collaborator to tweet negatively about Russia – many had noted Snowden’s silence on FSB repression and worse – may be a sign that the defector has outlived his usefulness.
In truth, Snowden was never all that well informed about American intelligence. Contrary to the myths that he and his mouthpieces have propagated, he was no more than an IT systems administrator. Snowden was never any sort of bona fide spy. There are no indications he really understands most of what he stole from NSA.
The FSB therefore milked Snowden of any valuable information rather quickly. He likely had little light to shed on the million-plus secret files he stole. Instead, his value to Moscow has been as a key player in Kremlin propaganda designed to discredit the Western intelligence alliance.
In that role, Snowden has done a great deal of damage to the West. But he was never a “mole” for Moscow inside NSA. In reality, the Snowden Operation is probably a cover to deflect attention from the one or more actual Russian moles who have been lurking inside NSA for years, undetected.
Based on the cases of previous Western intelligence defectors to Moscow, Edward Snowden faces an unhappy future. Whatever happens to him is up to his hosts, who control all aspects of any defector’s life. There no longer can be any honest debate about his relationship with the Kremlin, which has settled the matter once and for all. Putin and his special services consider Snowden to be nasch – there is no question about that now.