News / USA

Snowden Not the First NSA Defector

Edward Snowden, who worked as a contract employee at the National Security Agency, June 9, 2013, in Hong Kong.
Edward Snowden, who worked as a contract employee at the National Security Agency, June 9, 2013, in Hong Kong.
Edward Snowden isn't the first National Security Agency insider to leave the United States and spill spy agency secrets.
 
It hasn't gone according to plan for Snowden, who fled to Hong Kong and then spent more than a month marooned in the transit zone of a Moscow airport before finally getting his temporary asylum papers on Thursday.
 
And it didn’t go well for a couple of NSA defectors who came long before him.
 
William Martin and Bernon Mitchell were friends working at the National Security Agency in the late 1950s. The two were working in a highly technical field – the code-related work known as cryptology.
 
In the course of their work, Martin and Mitchell came across highly-secret documents, says David Barrett, a national security expert now teaching at Villanova University.
 
“For example, they became aware that not only was the NSA listening in to the communications of foreign countries that were enemies or rivals, like the Soviet Union, they discovered that the National Security Agency was also monitoring communications of countries that were our allies,” Barrett said. “And they thought this was deeply offensive and just wrong.”
 
Barrett said the two also learned that the American government was intercepting and reading mail that came into the U.S. from other countries.
 
And now more than half a century later, Snowden, is accusing the agency of doing more or less the same thing.
 
The two men were disillusioned
 
Barrett says Martin and Mitchell were disillusioned and decided to do something about it.
 
 “They noticed the idealistic language that President [Dwight] Eisenhower used in his speeches – public speeches – and compared it to some of what they knew the government was doing and so they decided to defect to the Soviet Union.”
 
Barrett says that in June of 1960, Martin and Mitchell told their superiors they were going on a month-long vacation to visit family and friends. But instead, they made their way to Moscow via New Orleans, Mexico City and Cuba.
 
When they didn’t return from vacation, their superiors got suspicious. Barrett says two months later, the NSA issued a statement saying agency “mathematicians” might have defected behind the Iron Curtain.
 
“But they said there is no way that anything that these two guys know could do any harm to the security of the U.S.,” he said. “And so it was treated as sort of a small event and initially, the press simply accepted that story that it was a small event.”
 
On September 6, 1960, Martin and Mitchell held a news conference in Moscow. Barrett says “there was a real outpouring of information about the National Security Agency.”
 
No Such Agency
 
“It became on the public record what the National Security Agency was, what it was doing,” he said. “Honestly, until this defection, there was almost no public knowledge of the NSA. And in fact, people around Washington who knew that it existed would joke that NSA stood for ‘No Such Agency.’”
 
Barrett says President Eisenhower referred to the two defectors as “self-confessed traitors,” and former president Harry Truman said “they ought to be shot.”
 
“There wasn’t much that Martin and Mitchell offered the Soviets after the passage of some months or maybe a year – and they just became these sorts of exiles in the Soviet Union,” Barrett said.
 
NSA leaker Edward Snowden received this temporary asylum visa to Russia on Thursday, August 1.NSA leaker Edward Snowden received this temporary asylum visa to Russia on Thursday, August 1.
x
NSA leaker Edward Snowden received this temporary asylum visa to Russia on Thursday, August 1.
NSA leaker Edward Snowden received this temporary asylum visa to Russia on Thursday, August 1.
“They chose the Soviet Union in part because they thought it was a workers’ paradise,” he continued. “They thought it would be a wonderful place to live. And the story after that is not really a happy story because they became disillusioned with life in the Soviet Union – it was no kind of paradise.”
 
Peter Savodnik, who has written about American defectors, says Martin, Mitchell and others were far different from those who decided to move to the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s.
 
“In the Cold War era [roughly 1947-1991], they tended to be a much sadder set of people – people who are really disenfranchised, who really feel sort of spiritually at sea,” Savodnik said. “The Soviet Union was not so much a beacon of hope for them, as it was an escape.”
 
William Martin died in 1987 at the age of 56, while Bernon Mitchell died in 2001 at the age of 72.
 
Snowden’s temporary asylum visa for Russia is valid for one year. No one knows yet where he goes from there – or even if he’ll stay in Russia that long.

Andre de Nesnera

Andre de Nesnera is senior analyst at the Voice of America, where he has reported on international affairs for more than three decades. Now serving in Washington D.C., he was previously senior European correspondent based in London, established VOA’s Geneva bureau in 1984 and in 1989 was the first VOA correspondent permanently accredited in the Soviet Union.

You May Like

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: James Reed from: Virginia
August 02, 2013 8:15 AM
"Voice of America" ? I am an American, and you sure as shee-it don't speak for me. I have to pay taxes to support your hate rants and you censor my comments. Yeah, that's the "American way"


by: david lulasa from: tambua village,hamisi,vih
August 02, 2013 7:24 AM
the defectors and criminals are stopping their trade whenever they reach moscow....therefore,russia should accept many asylum seekers who mostly are criminals...their crime will end for russia wont accept their goodwill to be undermined.

lulasa

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid