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

US Imposes Sanctions on Alleged Honduran Drug Gang

Treasury department alleges Los Valles group is responsible for smuggling tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into US each month More

At 91, Marvel Creator Stan Lee Continues to Expand his Universe

Company's chief emeritus hopes to interest new generation of children in superheroes of all shapes and sizes by publishing content across multiple media platforms More

Photogallery New Drug Protects Against Virus in Ebola Family

Study by researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals is first looking at drug's effectiveness after onset of symptoms 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.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid