How HPSCI’s Staffers Used Miscitations to Turn Edward Snowden into a Lying Flunkie

I want to take a close look at this paragraph (from PDF 7) of the House Intelligence report on Snowden, to show how they’re (mis)using information.

In its first claim, HPSCI says Snowden was “by his own account,” a “poor student.” It cites this Greenwald and Poitras intro to Snowden, which says something different: “By his own admission, he was not a stellar student.”

The next claim says he dropped out of high school in his sophmore year and then took community college classes, which relies on this report, which in turn cites the public schools as well as the Guardian story.

1991-1998: Snowden attends schools in the Anne Arundel County Public School System in Maryland from the elementary level to high school, where he dropped out his sophomore year. He’ll later say he earned his GED. (Source: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, The Guardian)

1999-2005: Snowden takes a variety of classes from Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Maryland. He does not take any cyber security or computer science classes, however, and he never earns a certificate or degree. (Source: Anne Arundel Community College)

Note, the committee has said it didn’t do an investigation because of the ongoing criminal investigation into Snowden. But there is no reason they couldn’t have called Anne Arundel County Public Schools rather than relying on an ABC piece; it wouldn’t have required a long distance call!

The third claim is that Snowden hoped the (community college) classes would permit him to earn a GED, “but nothing the Committee found indicates he did so.” That’s not sourced. Again, it doesn’t say whether or not they called Maryland.

This is what Bart Gellman said in September about Snowden’s claim to have gotten a GED.

I do not know how the committee could get this one wrong in good faith. According to the official Maryland State Department of Education test report, which I have reviewed, Snowden sat for the high school equivalency test on May 4, 2004. He needed a score of 2250 to pass. He scored 3550. His Diploma No. 269403 was dated June 2, 2004, the same month he would have graduated had he returned to Arundel High School after losing his sophomore year to mononucleosis. In the interim, he took courses at Anne Arundel Community College.

The fourth claim is that Snowden told TAO he did have a GED, claiming to have received it on 6/21/2001 from “Maryland High School.”

Finally, the report says that Snowden stated that he did not have a degree of any type, citing this NYT profile rather than citing the forum itself or even the Ars Technica article that first reported it. It is absolutely true that Snowden said he didn’t have a high school diploma, but in context, Snowden was responding to someone focused primarily on a college degree.

Visigothan: No college degree.

Over 10 years work experience in my field

No communicable or other diseases

Not a religious wackjob

I think I’m good on everything except the college degree.

TheTrueHOOHA: First off, the degree thing is crap, at least domestically. If you really have ten years of solid, provable IT experience (and given that you say you’re 25, I think it’d probably be best to underestimate), you CAN get a very well paying IT job. You just need to be either actively looking now or get the fuck out of California. I have no degree, nor even a high school diploma, but I’m making much more than what they’re paying you even though I’m only claiming six years of experience. It’s tough to “break in,” but once you land a “real” position, you’re made.

Now, unless the forum has changed over the years (in which case the date could be wrong), the NYT miscited Snowden, claiming he said “I don’t have a degree of ANY type. I don’t even have a high school diploma,” when in fact the forum itself says he said, “I have no degree, nor even a high school diploma.” Moreover, in context, Snowden is distinguishing between a “degree” and a “diploma,” which may suggest he’s thinking of the actual class work versus the (GED) degree.

That claim is modified by this footnote, citing an unnamed “associate” — is this Pulitzer Prize winning Bart Gellman they’re talking about? — describing that Snowden did get a GED in 2004. [Update: Indeed it is! HPSCI hid how credible the source for this was and what he based if off of!!]

But having acknowledged that there are official records they could consult but have not, they instead just present the admittedly conflicting claims made in secondary sources (assuming they got the dates correct, but there are dates that are absolutely incorrect elsewhere in this report). There’s no actual attempt to contact local schools to get to the bottom of it all.

And yet, they then use these conflicting claims (based on inaccurate citations) to claim, in the summary, that Snowden is a “serial exaggerator.”

To make that claim with respect to his high school education, you would actually have had to do the work to ascertain the truth. The report made no effort to do so.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

7 replies
  1. Felicia says:

    Many highly intelligent people drop out of highschool or are poor students, becauses the educational programmes are no challenge at all. Is it really important if he has GED or not you can ask? Evaluating how he handled all at a very young age only shows how intelligent he must be. The (mis)using of information or bending it in these directions is more like ”revenge” or degrading him for public opinion reasons imo.

  2. martin says:

    Meanwhile, Snowden the less than stellar student, exposes the NSA’s/USG lies and criminal attempt to spy on it’s own citizenry, notwithstanding the entire planet. Meanwhile, those halfwit Surveillance State whores in Congress who’s mandate is to OVERSEE these NSA criminals, is also exposed as the co-conspirator in a massive program to “collect it all” while burning the 4th Amendment to ashes, who in retribution, drafts a lie filled document to smear the biggest hero in the history of the world. If anyone should be prosecuted for treason, notwithstanding the officials of the NSA,..it is these scumsucking maggots in the HPSCIS. I hope they burn in hell for eternity, for every blood drenched innocent that has died on this planet due to the NSA’s contribution to the Legal Imperialist WOT across the world. I just wish I could spit in their faces.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Rumor has it neither Einstein nor Churchill were good as students in ordinary classes.  Boredom often leads the especially bright to ignore the routine information most examiners look for as a sign of student comprehension.  And as you say, a matter being under investigation might inhibit interviewing “witnesses” and other original inquiries that might obstruct justice; it doesn’t prohibit basic fact checking of matters already in public or official records.

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