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June 25, 2013

How good is Edward Snowden at spycraft?

(Continued)

WASHINGTON — While not particularly effective at stopping anyone actively seeking to spy on Snowden, pillows could have muffled the sounds of any conversations going on in his Hong Kong hotel room enough that an unsuspecting person passing by wouldn't overhear something alarming, Gomez says.

               

Wearing a hood while entering computer passwords, to avoid hidden cameras

              

The danger while entering computer passwords is unlikely to come from a hidden camera planted in the hotel, Gomez says, but rather from keystroke-logging software, against which a hoodie provides little protection.

               

Signaling his identity to reporters by carrying a Rubik's Cube through a hotel

              

While spies do at times use signals to identify one another, the idea in doing so is to not draw attention to yourself, Gomez explains. Thus, when arranging a meeting, as Snowden did with a group of journalists in Hong Kong, it is both unhelpful and unnecessary to carry something as out of place as a Rubik's Cube. It would have been better, Gomez adds, for Snowden to have simply described, say, his clothing in detail. "If you're going to meet with all these people, what's the point of being Sneaky Pete?" Gomez asks.        

              

In general, Gomez notes, Snowden's stabs at tradecraft seem like the work of an amateur - "the I'll be here, wearing a grey fedora, smoking this brand of cigarette kind of thing."

              

"I've never gotten the sense that he really understood what covert tradecraft is about," he observed.

              

Then again, Snowden spent enough time working in the intelligence community to know a thing or two about the long arm of U.S. law - plus he's a very wanted man. It's enough to inspire considerable paranoia - the kind that might make even the most grounded person chuck a cell phone in the fridge.

 

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