Snowden on trial; Wells Fargo CEO Stumpf on trial

Snowden case

 In particular, the chairman of the House panel at the time that it opened the  Snowden investigation, Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan, who is no longer in Congress, repeatedly insinuated that Mr. Snowden was a spy for Russia.  But executive branch officials have said that they have never found evidence that he had been working with or for anyone else.


9-16-16     House Intel Comm. Snowden report–none of which we may read, because it “must remain classified.” ….It is one more dispiriting commentary on the state of legislative oversight that the committee’s twenty-two members, Republican and Democratic, were unanimous in signing their names.

A reminder at the outset.  I am one of four journalists (with Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald, and Ewen MacAskill) who received classified archives of NSA documents from Snowden.  I am writing a book on the subject for Penguin Press.  Feel free to consider, as you read this, that my stories in The Washington Post played a role in the disclosures that the Committee is at pains to denounce….

Since I’m on record claiming the report is dishonest, let’s skip straight to the fourth section.  That’s the one that describes Snowden as “a serial exaggerator and fabricator,” with “a pattern of intentional lying.”

House Intel report:

“He claimed to have obtained a high school degree equivalent when in fact he never did.”

“He claimed to have worked for the CIA as a ‘senior advisor,’ which was a gross exaggeration of his entry-level duties as a computer technician.”

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….Snowden was selected for and spent six months in training as a telecommunications information security officer, responsible for all classified technology in U.S. embassies overseas.  The CIA deployed him to Geneva under diplomatic cover, complete with an alias identity and a badge describing him as a State Department attache.   In his third CIA job, the title on his Dell business card was “solutions consultant / cyber referent” for the intelligence community writ large—the company’s principal point of contact for cyber contracts and proposals.  In that role, Snowden met regularly with the chiefs and deputy chiefs of the CIA’s technical branches to talk through their cutting edge computer needs….

“In May 2013, Snowden informed his supervisor that he would be out of the office to receive treatment for worsening epilepsy.  In reality, he was on his way to Hong Kong with stolen secrets.”

True!  When Snowden decided to leave the NSA with a cache of documents for public release, he gave a false cover story for his absence.

That’s it.  That’s the Committee’s whole case for Snowden as big fat liar.  I won’t belabor the irony, but let’s note in passing that four of the six claims are egregiously false, and a fifth is hard to credit.  We can only hope the classified report, which boasts 230 footnotes, has better evidence.     -Barton Gellman      


Wells Fargo case    9-20-16   

The bank’s explanation has been that this was all a scheme mysteriously concocted by “rogue” employees coast-to-coast, of whom 5,300 have been fired.  Stumpf denied on the stand, as he has in interviews, that the root cause of the outbreak of dishonesty was Wells Fargo’s relentless pressure on low-level bankers to “cross-sell” products — push credit cards, personal loans and other deals — upon all customers.  He stoutly denied that the company’s “culture” contributed to the problem.
The company’s sales goal was as high as eight accounts per customer, vastly more than rival banks thought reasonable, and it ceaselessly boasted to investors of its cross-selling success as evidence of its expertise in retail banking.  Let’s call this by its proper name, as did committee ranking member Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio):  “I call it fraud because I got tired of the euphemisms a long time ago.”…

Sen. Warren to Wells Fargo CEO Stumpf:  “Have you returned one nickel of the millions of dollars that you were paid while this scam was going on?”

“Well, first of all,” Stumpf blustered, “this was by 1% of our people, and— and — ”

“That’s not my question,” Warren interrupted.  “My question is about responsibility.  Have you returned one nickel of the millions of dollars that you were paid while this scam was going on?”

“The board will take care of that.”

“Have you returned one nickel of the money you earned while this scam was going on?”

“The board will — ”

“I will take that as a ‘no,’ then.”

Warren further probed whether Stumpf had fired a single senior executive over the scam. The answer was no.

“OK.  So you haven’t resigned, you haven’t returned a single nickel of your personal earnings, you haven’t fired a single senior executive. Instead, your definition of accountable is to push the blame to your low-level employees who don’t have the money for a fancy PR firm to defend themselves.  It’s gutless leadership.”…

Noting that Stumpf’s personal stockholdings increased in value by more than $200 million while the scam was ongoing — thanks in part to Wells Fargo’s boasts about its cross-selling skills — Warren said:  “You squeezed your employees to the breaking point so they would cheat customers and you could drive up the value of your stock and put hundreds of millions of dollars in your own pocket.  And when it all blew up, you kept your job, you kept your multimillion-dollar bonuses and you went on television to blame thousands of $12-an-hour employees.”

Then she connected the most important dots:  “Wall Street executives … almost never hold themselves accountable.  Not now, and not in 2008, when they crushed the worldwide economy.  The only way that Wall Street will change is if executives face jail time when they preside over massive frauds. … Until then it will be business as usual, and at giant banks like Wells Fargo that seems to mean cheating as many customers, investors and employees as they possibly can.”       


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