Greenwald got the documents from Snowden— Charlie Savage
These six words on Charlie Savage’s blog piqued my curiosity. They beckoned me to dig into a question that had been subject to much debate. Where was Edward Snowden prior to meeting with Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald?
Charlie Savage was referencing the documents Greenwald received which were meant to explain where Snowden had been staying while in Hong Kong before June 1st, 2013. This crucial question had been asked repeatedly by various figures in the media, including by Jay Edward Epstein, among others. Epstein has pointed at an 11 day hole in Snowden’s timeline on a few occasions.
Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept declared in the headline of a nearly 4,000 word article that “Key Claim of Snowden’s Accusers Is a Fraud.” He spent a vast majority of this article focusing on various people in the media who had rightly questioned Snowden’s timeline. Is it important to know what Edward Snowden was doing in Hong Kong with a vast trove of NSA and other intelligence documents? Absolutely.
Repeatedly trying to label these questions a conspiracy does not alter the fundamental relevancy of these questions. This was Snowden’s very first move once he acquired all the material he was after. Why?
Worth mentioning, the entirety of Glenn Greenwald’s piece rested on the documents that came to him through Edward Snowden. As such, Greenwald should have vetted these documents thoroughly before writing that article.
The very first discovery in this investigation was that there weren’t merely 11 days that were unaccounted for. There were 14 days, from May 20th, 2013 through June 2nd, 2013. Edward Snowden (ES) did not meet with the reporters until June 3rd, 2013. For the record, ES arranged that initial meeting.
For argument’s sake, let’s pretend that everything about these documents added up. This would back up Snowden’s claim about where he rented a room. However, unless hotel rooms have changed since I was last in one, they are not jail cells. A guest can come and go at their leisure. Moreover, a person can check into a hotel but not stay there every night. I’ll return to this topic later in this piece.
As Charlie Savage noted, ES was the last person to touch the documents before Greenwald received them and Ed had a clear motive in this matter. His whereabouts while in HK had been subject to scrutiny for almost three years and he was seeking to offer an explanation for where he was. Considering his motivations, any reasonable journalist would vet these documents thoroughly. Because if there were any signs that the documents were not authentic, that would only serve to substantiate that there are serious issues with Snowden’s story.
There are, in fact, serious problems with these documents. For reference, both Charlie Savage and Glenn Greenwald have versions of these documents posted online. The most efficient way to cover these issues is for readers to review the PDF files as each issue is brought to the fore. However, screenshots will be provided for reference.
The first red flag was the redaction of the name that was written to the left of Mr. Jonathan Man’s name on page 1 of the Pang & Associates (P&A) memo. This name would be one of the lawyers that represent Snowden at Ho Tse Wai & Partners, as the memo is addressed to them.
The three page P&A memo contained multiple additional redactions. Upon comparing all redactions on every page in the Greenwald PDF file to those in the Savage PDF file, only the P&A redactions are identical.
All other redactions have notable differences. The most notable difference is that Greenwald’s redactions are white while Savage’s are black.
The identical redactions on the Pang & Associates documents is evidence that those specific redactions were already in place before the files reached Greenwald. They would have been put there by Snowden’s lawyers. In consideration of those origins, it is reasonable to infer that one of the lawyers did not want their name associated with these documents. Hence, the redaction in figure 1.
The means by which Greenwald received these documents also points to Snowden’s lawyers distancing themselves from these documents. Ordinarily, there would be no reason why lawyers would not have transmitted documents directly to a journalist. But these are no ordinary documents and the lawyers opted not to take that route.
There are two additional redactions in the three-page P&A memo that are informative. Those are the redactions within the body of the memo and at the beginning of page 2. An inspection of page 1 and 2 reveals that the redaction that occurs on page 2 is obscuring item 2 on the provided list.
An examination of Personal Data Privacy Ordinance Cap 486, which would apply to this firm, makes it clear that Snowden’s lawyers would have to redact the personal information of a third party if the third party did not authorize the disclosure of that information. This ordinance would explain the purpose of those two redactions. The information for some person other than Snowden was involved in this record request.
According to item 3(d), the initial stay at The Mira was listed as ‘Paid Out Voucher (No. 28328).’ Accommodation vouchers are a listed perk of MiraPlus memberships, per The Mira’s website.
Several online searches for any mention of Snowden having a MiraPlus membership yielded no results.
The final listed stay (item 6) does not contain any noted cancellation documents in the entry. This entry covered a period that occurred after ES checked out on the morning of the 10th of June. This record of a 4th stay does not appear to match Snowden’s timeline, so to whom does this record belong?
Setting aside the P&A memo, there are two types of documents in the remainder of Greenwald’s PDF file. Those are the ‘booking confirmation’ (BC) documents and the ‘information invoice’ (II) documents.
On the Information Invoice covering the first stay at The Mira, the room number is clearly missing. It would be unreasonable to believe that either Booking.com or The Mira Hotel would make this error or any of the many other errors which follow.
In the BC doc covering the third booking, the fax header is visibly missing. This fax header appears on all other BC docs. While it may be less obvious in Glenn’s file due to some peculiar cropping, its absence is obvious on Savage’s version.
Moreover, roughly a third of the way down the BC docs under the arrival and departure information block, there is a section which lists the number of adults and children. This section also lists the room type and the view.
Flipping between the docs, the differences in the number of adults and children stand out. Typical extensions wouldn’t result in these differences unless the guest intentionally changed these entries with each extension. Also, what valid reason would Snowden have for purportedly booking a child on his initial stay or third stay?
Reviewing Greenwald’s article and numerous other publicly available reports shows that Snowden claimed he stayed in Room 1014 the entire time he was at The Mira.
However, the BC docs do not reflect this. The room view changes between the docs, sometimes facing towards the park and on another occasion facing towards the city. These views are facing in the opposite directions, per The Mira’s website.
The particulars of the room type changes, as well. During the second booking, the guest stayed in a club room, while the other BC docs reflect a regular room. The pricing which is listed near the middle of the docs verifies that the club room costs HK$ 490 more per night.
Room 1014 cannot be both a regular room and a club room.
Just above the room pricing, the BC documents specify which nights are covered during each booking. Comparing the third and fourth booking, the night of June 10th, 2013 is not covered. If this were Snowden’s extension, he would have no room for that night.
Two separate notes on each BC document spell out that reservations are non-refundable once booked.
Due to the incongruous booking date and the cancellation policy, this final booking ‘extension’ makes very little sense if it were Snowden’s.
Considering all these issues with the ‘information invoice’ and ‘booking confirmation’ docs, it is unreasonable to consider these docs are authentic. These are glaring errors, so did Glenn vet these at all?
Returning to where I left off on the discussion of the 14 days, those are still being covered up by Snowden. Coincidentally, Snowden requested a couple weeks of medical leave, supposedly for epilepsy treatment. But instead, he left for Hong Kong.
He could have used that medical leave at any time. He could have used it so it coincided with his meeting with the journalists and with the planned documentary, which Poitras filmed.
This medical leave provided cover with his employer Booz Allen Hamilton. Yet he ensured that it covered his 14 days in Hong Kong prior to meeting with Poitras and Greenwald.
The way ES portrayed it, getting that NSA information to the reporters and to the public was his top concern. Yet by the looks of it, those two weeks in Hong Kong were a much higher priority. It was his first move after he got everything he was after. It was the reason he needed a cover story.
Those two weeks were also the reason that those documents were produced. They were intended to somehow explain away Snowden’s choices and actions. But even if they appeared to be valid, a hotel is not a jail and he could come and go at will. And as mentioned before, it seems very unreasonable to assume the Information Invoice and Booking Confirmation docs are valid.
Instead of cleaning up Edward Snowden’s story, these documents only make it far messier. They suggest that there are persistent efforts to bury the truth. The truth is that Snowden was purposefully in Hong Kong for two weeks with a massive trove of NSA data. Furthermore, he deliberately worked to create a medical leave cover story with his employer which covered this precise period.
Prior to this writing, I undertook a roughly 7,000 word analysis of these docs. This analysis included a variety of screen captures of portions of the documents to highlight the issues. If I receive at least ten requests for it by email, I will release an addendum to this piece which will further dive into this matter.
One final note I must add. Attempting to archive Glenn Greenwald’s writing on The Intercept results in a 404 error as of my latest attempt to archive his various work just prior to publishing. This has been an ongoing issue, one that I haven’t encountered with other journalists for various unrelated outlets. However, his article is published elsewhere and I have archived it on a few externals.