On “Meet the Press” Sunday, House Intelligence Committee Mike Rogers made some “news” by suggesting that that Edward Snowden may have been working with the Russian Intelligence Agency when he downloaded all that data from U.S. files on the National Security Agency’s phone call snooping programs.
Today, the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer published an interview in which Snowden rejected the implication and criticized the media for allowing Rogers to put it out without challenging him.
I was shocked at what Rogers said on Sunday, especially the vague nature of it. The Republican congressman from Michigan who also used to be an FBI agent, failed to make a concrete allegation and he offered no backup. But there could be no mistaking what he was implying. Here’s an excerpt:
CHAIRMAN ROGERS: “Well, let me just say this. I believe there’s a reason he ended up in the hands, the loving arms, of an FSB agent in Moscow. [The FSB is the Russian intelligence agency, the successor to the Soviet-era KGB.] I don’t think that’s a coincidence…
Meet the Press Moderator DAVID GREGORY: You think the Russians helped Ed Snowden?
ROGERS: I believe there’s questions to be answered there. I don’t think it was a gee-whiz luck event that he ended up in Moscow under the handling of the FSB.
Maybe Rogers has some evidence. Maybe not. He said some things that implied he did. But it seems he shouldn’t be putting out such a claim until he’s ready to back it up.
Now, from Mayer’s New Yorker piece of today:
“Snowden, in a rare interview that he conducted by encrypted means from Moscow, denied the allegations outright, stressing that he ‘clearly and unambiguously acted alone, with no assistance from anyone, much less a government.’ He added, ‘It won’t stick…. Because it’s clearly false, and the American people are smarter than politicians think they are.’
If he was a Russian spy, Snowden asked, ‘Why Hong Kong?’ And why, then, was he ‘stuck in the airport forever’ when he reached Moscow? (He spent forty days in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo International Airport.) “’Spies get treated better than that.’”
Snowden also rebuked the media for letting Rogers get away with it.
“‘It’s not the smears that mystify me,’ Snowden told me [that is, told Mayer]. ‘It’s that outlets report statements that the speakers themselves admit are sheer speculation.’ Snowden went on to poke fun at the range of allegations that have been made against him in the media without intelligence officials providing some kind of factual basis: ‘ “We don’t know if he had help from aliens.” “You know, I have serious questions about whether he really exists.”’
Snowden went on, ‘It’s just amazing that these massive media institutions don’t have any sort of editorial position on this. I mean these are pretty serious allegations, you know?’ He continued, ‘The media has a major role to play in American society, and they’re really abdicating their responsibility to hold power to account.’
I’m not interested in defending David Gregory. Rogers just put his “it’s no coincidence” sound-bite out there. It’s a live show. Gregory didn’t endorse it although his reaction –“That’s a significant development if it’s true…” did strike me as lame. But reporters should keep the pressure on Rogers to back up what he said or retract it, and should never repeat it without specifying that it is an unproven “belief” that Rogers decided — for reasons that he hasn’t made clear — to put out there without any evidence that he was willing to produce.