Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Why I don’t think Snowden is, or will become, a Chinese intelligence asset

By Stuart Herrington Best Defense guest columnist Unless he was an asset of the Chinese or some other foreign intelligence service prior to “coming out” as he did, I don’t think it’s likely any foreign intel service is going to latch onto Edward Snowden. If he were already a recruited asset, one would think that ...

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Wikimedia
Wikimedia

By Stuart Herrington

Best Defense guest columnist

Unless he was an asset of the Chinese or some other foreign intelligence service prior to "coming out" as he did, I don't think it's likely any foreign intel service is going to latch onto Edward Snowden.

By Stuart Herrington

Best Defense guest columnist

Unless he was an asset of the Chinese or some other foreign intelligence service prior to “coming out” as he did, I don’t think it’s likely any foreign intel service is going to latch onto Edward Snowden.

If he were already a recruited asset, one would think that his case officers would have given him a better exfil plan than “fly to Hong Kong and hold a press interview.” In fact, were he already on some service’s payroll, the counsel would have been “stay right where you are, you can do us the most good in your current Booz Allen position.” He is a “property,” but don’t think it likely that he would be picked up in such a short time by any country’s service, China included.

To use jargon, Snowden is “blown” — that is, he is a hot potato, with many downsides politically and from almost any perspective. My guess is that he realized after his flight to HK and going public that this was not a very swift move, and that he was in danger of being picked up by the authorities, acting on behalf of the local U.S. mission there (or, in his paranoid mind’s eye, snatched and rendered by the hated CIA) — and he was relentlessly besieged by media — so he disappeared himself for the moment, which won’t last in Hong Kong, a very well-organized society with a super security force. In short, any service that might like to contact him for a debriefing or other relationship would right now be appealing to its highers (the very top) with arguments as to just why they would wish to touch this guy at this time.

Based on what we know now, which could change in a flash, I would vote that no service, Chinese or otherwise, will touch this fellow; and, if they do, it would be a quiet interview, just to sniff out what, if anything, he might have that would merit undertaking political risks to touch him.

Stuart Herrington is a former commander of the U.S. Army Foreign Intelligence Command, INSCOM. He also is the author of several books about intelligence, including Traitors Among Us: Inside the Spy Catcher’s World.   

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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