Oh, please, tell me half my friends are not accidental cult members

I do not have an unquestioned respect for Edwared Snowden or those other guys who swore an oath of secrecy in service of their government and then stole piles of secrets and gave them away. I'm also not especially impressed with the uncritical crush so many people have on them for doing what they did. We've discussed this before in relation to State Department cables. While so many others seemed to assume that all State Department cables were evil secrets that must see the light of day, I was thinking of a number of probable State Department cables that I have reason to believe might exist that had no reason to see the light of day but where their publication would be damaging. I gave specific, meaningful examples, and these criticisms never addressed directly by anyone. All I got were stern looks, or worse, because I was not in the Cult of Wikileaks.

The following is a bit more nuanced for many people to get, so if you are already really mad at me for what I just said just stop reading and leave the room. OK, thanks, bye.

I do not like Big Brother and I object to many of the activities that the government probably engages in. If some of those activities are revealed because of Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden's actions, and something positive is done about that, then I'll be very glad. I'll be very glad for Wikileaks, Bradley Manning, and Edward Snowden.

Yes, I can hold those two seemingly different thoughts and feelings at the same time.

Having said both of those things, I'm feeling good that I never jumped on the bandwagon, treating Edward Snowden like he was some sexy speaker at a skeptical convention I just met in a bar who has slipped me a Mickey. If, that is, and I'm having a hard time believing that this is the case but it may well be, the following report from Voice of Russia is true:

Edward Snowden predicts catastrophic and 'inevitable solar tsunami'

Edward Snowden, a former CIA agent, has predicted that series of solar flares is set to occur in September of 2013, killing hundreds of millions of people.

The documents collected by Snowden offer proof that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) learned about the existing threat 14 years ago.

Ever since the world’s governments have been working secretly ..., to be well prepared for what could be termed as “Solar Apocalypse”.

...Snowden said that the government has been working hard to be well prepared for September’s catastrophic solar flares, which can be fraught with fatal consequences, as scientists said – they can lead to the death of mankind.

The Central Intelligence Agency learned about the existing threat as long ago as 1999, but according to the government’s decision, this information was immediately made secret.

The documents collected by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said how terrible the solar flares’ results will be: two months will be needed for mankind to become non-existent.


Snowden said FEMA and the National Disaster Reduction Center of China have been taking steps for 14 years in light of the findings of Project Stargate.

FEMA’s own documents, provided by Snowden, lay out how the organization plans to round up tens of millions of the poorest Americans for housing at secure locations “to better facilitate feeding and provision of consumer goods.”

“...‘the killshot’ will shutter most of the world’s electrical systems,” said Snowden.


WAIT WAIT IT'S A FAKE ... I interrupt this blog post to report that two guys on the internet have proven that this story is a FAKE. Here is what they say, quoted at MSN:

"The Internet is ablaze with yet another baseless conspiracy theory that only serves to distract from real cover-ups and issues of genuine significance — the hoax that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden recently warned of a 'solar flare killshot' set to wipe out hundreds of millions of people in September," Paul Joseph Watson of Infowars and PrisonPlanet.com complains in an article outlining why it's a hoax.

He pointed out, for example, that readers readily would figure out it was fictitious if they went to Internet Chronicle's "about" section, which states the web site "is not of this earth.

Of course, I got the story from the Voice of Russia web site, not some fake web site. That, itself, is an interesting story.

This being a fake or not is really hardly the point. A gazillion people will believe it anyway, so we might as well carry on....

Humanity is about to pay a most dire price for its technological dependence.

That price, said Snowden, proved a leading factor in his decision to come forward to the press – about both the global Holocaust to ensue, as well as NSA analysts’ power, on the slightest whim, to listen to the phone calls of any person on earth. Mankind has the right to know what it will expect in the future, no matter how dreadful it will be.

I wonder what he thinks about contrails?

There's a video that goes along with this on the Voice of Russia web page. And no, it is not the Onion.

If Edward Snowden really was thinking this was true, and if he really did act in a way that could get him executed to save humanity from .... well, from not knowing why it is destroyed, in September, by a solar apocalypse ... then he is an unhinged conspiracy theorist and we should probably not trust much else of what he said.

Or, perhaps, the Russian Intelligence Agency ... you know, the one with the name nobody can remember but it used to be the KGB ... has simply made this story up to make Snowden look like a crazy person. If so, then it is possible that they did this as part of a deal with the CIA-NSA in order to discredit Snowden. If that is the case, then there must be something else that is part of the deal, some Russian Agents that are going to be released in exchange for this help. Or, perhaps, the CIA intents to help the Russians in a False Flag Operation to discredit Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Something involving pipelines and vodka and a secret base underneath a fake island in the Aleutians. Yeah, that's what it is. It's a False Flag Operation. It must be.

Or, maybe there really is going to be ....

... a Kill Shot....

For now, I'm going with this story being fake.

More like this

Snowden is not the story. The abrogation of the fourth amendement is the story. Of course the solar flare crapola is disinformation.


Agreed. To the extent that whatever you said or imply is true, of course.

OK Solar Flare!!! WOW! like that never happened before!
The internet goes down! Ya? So? I don't NEED the infernal-net, it is just handy.
So electricity goes down? Got generator, fireplace, grill, oil lamps, Can do OK for a few weeks.
It's amazing how NOTHING gone done in the 1800's and everyone suffered for the lack of electricity.
But is this real? The Bad Astronomer has not mentioned anything so not worried.
About Snowden and the others? I'm not a fan because I do not know the details but I understand. Yes they took oaths, well so did I but the implied part of the oath is that it concerned LEGAL - Constitutional activities. I did not take the oath to coverup the illegal activities of power crazed a-holes. I do not believe in secrets just cuz, ie don't say anything about 'him' being a crook because it might cause a panic or hurt our image- BS - want me to honor your image and efforts? BE HONEST!!

"This must be disinformation" should be your first thought reading this (solar flares), the last (con trails), and the next (TBA) report of conspiracy theory clap-trap attributed to Edward Snowden.

The US national security apparatus will have two goals here. One, make this "all about Ed", which requires little effort thanks to the vapid and self-serving corporate media, and two, destroy any trust people have in what Snowden has to say, it's not like they will actually read the documents. Getting people to put "the NSA has all your emails" in the same mental compartment as "the CIA wants to kill you with solar flares" goes a long way towards that second goal.

Now, I have no special knowledge to indicate these two "Ed is a nut" stories were planted or even just promoted with that intention, but only a fool would think it is a ludicrous possibility. IMO.

So, wait.

The real reason Snowden violated the terms of his security clearance and oath was because of the central end-of-the-world plot theme of "Knowing"?


Right on!, and if I may indulge in religious language here, Amen to that! I am so (expletive!) sick of the Uncritical Cult of Wikileaks and its various spawn, that I could just throw up. Particularly since so many of the cultists also use GMail, Google Voice, smartphones, and Facebook, each of which is a surveillance system with a degree of depth that NSA could only hope to achieve. The overt hypocrisy is nauseating.

One of the reforms that is badly needed, is a law that provides an absolute right for persons with clearances to make disclosures to appropriately cleared members of relevant committees in the House and Senate, with zero consequences to themselves. There may already be whistleblower laws but apparently they are not adequate to the task and need to be strengthened.

Representatives and Senators already have the ability to make public disclosures without consequence to themselves. Let us not forget a particularly egregious example of this, when Senator Orrin Hatch said, in the mid 1990s, "why are we paying good money to eavesdrop on the satellite phone of a guy named Bin Laden who lives in a cave?" Needless to say, Bin Laden quickly ditched his satphone, and the rest is history. But the point this illustrates, is that a Representative or Senator, having met with some future Snowden-equivalent, could choose to make public disclosures (more cautiously than Hatch did!) that were sufficient to get the ball rolling on reforms. All of this without celebrity status for leakers, without indiscriminate data-dumps that really do cause harm, and without the media-frenzy digressions that interfere with the real issues at hand.

As for solar flairs (and chemtrails;-), it's clear that the Russian "news" item is sheer horse manure: they didn't even get the name of the agency correct. This would be obvious to Americans but not necessarily obvious to Russians, which supports the conclusion that it's for domestic consumption. But let's not forget that Russia is the heartland of conspiracy theory: after decades of dictatorship (a habit that apparently dies hard), there is a strong tendency in the culture to believe any outlandish crazy thing that's branded as a disclosure about secret government goings-on.

I'm inclined to believe (Ockham) that the Russian article was purely the result of some editor's desire for sensationalism combined with an absence of even basic fact-checking. But in the absence of certainty about its intent, we can observe its impact. I'm inclined to believe that the impact will also be minimal. September will come and go without apocalypse, and the media will find some new source of cheap thrills.

If there's any PRISM inmates out there who are forcing themselves to read most of the internet tripe and trying to pass it off as "intelligence"... I just want to say, "Hi; hope you're not too bored and the pay is good" ;-)

By KnightBiologist (not verified) on 11 Aug 2013 #permalink

While I don't count myself as blindly uncritical of WikiLeaks and I agree with Greg that not all diplomatic secrets need to be, nor should be, exposed, I think it is pretty laughable to criticize Snowden for "violating the terms of his security clearance".

And only in America could the exposure of a massive government surveillance state be met with tongue clucks about how he should have just told the government...

The story is most likely made up by the Russian media, perhaps from a basis that CIA has a real (and justified) concern what will happen if we get hit by a major flare, but there is also a possibility that there are people in CIA who really believe that stuff. Remember "The men who stare at goats". Strange things can happen in secret organizations where there are no outsiders who can tell them "That's just crazy!".

@ #8
"I think it is pretty laughable to criticize Snowden for “violating the terms of his security clearance”. Why? Are you a member of the cult? Or one of those who think 9/11 was an inside job by a zionist conspiracy in the govmint? Some things may be over classified but there are things that could damage the security of the US if disclosed. That is why the "terms of his security clearance" is not a laughing matter. The Brits during WWII made stuff up and attributed it to real living, but unknowing, British citizens in order to mislead the Germans. Mr.Snowden, if there, might have determined that doing such things was wrong and the world should know what was going on. If so he would have sunk the D-day invasion.

Are you a member of the cult?

Or one of those who think 9/11 was an inside job by a zionist conspiracy in the govmint?

Yeah, that's what I meant! Don't know how it came out as what I wrote....thanks for clarifying!

The issue of destructive solar flares is something I know a bit about. There are multiple issues at work here.

The idea that a solar flare comparable to the Carrington event of 1859 could seriously cripple the electric grid is something that people in the business are taking seriously. Governments are or should be making contingency plans for such an event, though not necessarily along the lines of what is being attributed to Snowden here. Contra L. Long above, this is a serious issue, because unlike in the 1800s, we have come to depend on electricity for everyday life, and most of our backup plans involve at least some nearby areas having electricity even as some areas are still off line. That includes generators, BTW: you probably have at most a few days of fuel on hand, and without electricity you can't pump replacement fuel.

The tell is the claim that people know, and have known for years, that the event is coming in September. Our solar flare models are not that good. We can watch sunspot groups, and predict which ones are capable of producing large flares. (Though not as large as Carrington's; we have not seen a comparable event since then.) I don't think we can predict exactly when the flare will go off. When it does, we on Earth will have between one and three days of warning if it's coming our way (not all flares produce effects on Earth).

Bottom line, as Greg says in the OP, is that either Snowden is a conspiracy nut, or somebody planted this story to discredit Snowden.

One thing that puzzles me about this case is why no heads (other than Snowden's) have been rolling at Booz Allen Hamilton, the contractor which employed him. Whatever your opinions of Snowden, it is clear that whoever hired the guy screwed up--the hiring process is supposed to weed out the sort of person who would do what Snowden did. And making the boss look bad is normally an unforgivable sin in the business world.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 12 Aug 2013 #permalink

"The tell is the claim that people know, and have known for years, that the event is coming in September."

Exactly. This is one of those really interesting issues .... the frequency of very severe events is low enough that people can mix up likelihood and consequences.

Also, just to add some interest to the story: My understanding (correct me if I'm wrong, Eric) is that a solar flare has multiple components, with the photons reaching us first and more or less harmlessly. The solar storm that causes disruption is a physical, matter-involved phenomenon of a plasma cloud projected at high speed from the sun, but no where near the speed of light. The plasma cloud interacts with the earth days after the photons, which is why we can see it coming.

The part that causes trouble is the magnetic energy in the plasma cloud, and you can't measure the magnetic energy in advance of its arrival (apparently) so we don't know until the cloud hits how bad it will be. There was a baddish solar flair some time last year or early this year, IIRC that blasted us with a big bad cloud but the cloud ended up being low in magnetic energy.

Is that more or less right? I've been hoping to ask Neil de Grasse Tyson about this next time I interview him, because it is in his area of speciality. But you can have a shot at it now if you like!

Interesting point about Booz Allen.

Greg @13: You have the basics right. The orientation of the magnetic field in the cloud also matters: if it is opposite to the direction of the Earth's magnetic field near the front of the magnetosphere, the energy transfer is more efficient than if it were oblique or in the same direction. This is due to what is called reconnection: if two sets of oppositely directed magnetic field lines are in close proximity, they can change their topology such that they become interconnected with each other, and plasma can move from one side to the other (charged particles can easily move along magnetic field lines but only with difficulty be transported across magnetic field lines). But apart from that, yes, the strength of the magnetic field in the cloud matters more than the density of the cloud. And it is the cloud that would do most of the damage, in terms of electromagnetic effects. An astronaut unlucky enough to be outside when the flare went off could get fried by energetic particles moving just under the speed of light, but not enough of those particles would get through our magnetic field and atmosphere to do much damage to most people on the ground. (It is a problem in polar regions due to the geometry of the magnetic field, so certain long-haul flights will take less efficient routes further from the pole if a particularly nasty sunspot group happens to be aimed right at us.)

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 12 Aug 2013 #permalink

If you had warning, you could disconnect things. It is my understanding that big things like transformers would only be damaged if they are connected to long power lines. If you disconnected a transformer and shorted the leads together, it would just sit there through a Carrington-type event.

The problem would likely be due to lawyers going crazy over the certain losses from turning off the power grid from the projected damages from not turning the grid off if a Carrington-type event was going to hit us.

By daedalus2u (not verified) on 12 Aug 2013 #permalink

One thing that puzzles me about this case is why no heads (other than Snowden’s) have been rolling at Booz Allen Hamilton, the contractor which employed him. Whatever your opinions of Snowden, it is clear that whoever hired the guy screwed up–the hiring process is supposed to weed out the sort of person who would do what Snowden did

While heads may roll (have they? How good is our info on this?), I don't think it is a clear cut case of incompetent or even sloppy hiring. If you take Snowden, and also Bradley Manning, at his word, and I don't know why that should not at least be considered, they entered into their positions as young, idealistic patriots, already inside the bubble. Being young, what they saw and learned changed them.

At least from the outside, it looks like pretty text-book whistle blowing. And yes, whistle-blowing involves betraying at least the trust, if not the laws, contracts and oaths, you have promised your employer to uphold. It is a classic utilitarian dilemma.

"Orders are orders" is not an airtight defense for complicity in immoral actions.

If you designed everything with that in mind, you could shut everything down in a few seconds. The power grid we have was not designed with that in mind, so it would take longer.

There are switches and circuit breakers to take power plants on and off line. I think the biggest issue would be coordinating the shut-down and having the decision made to do so in enough time to accomplish it.

You would want to first shed as much load as possible, then break the grid into small pieces, then shut each piece down and ground as much of it as you can.

The weak point would be nuclear power plants. They still need lots of power for cooling and running the control systems. That would have to be generated onsite.

Once the grid is powered down and all the power plants are disconnected, then electrical workers would need to scurry around to all the big transformers and make sure they were physically disconnected, locally shorted and locally grounded.

By daedalus2u (not verified) on 12 Aug 2013 #permalink

If you take Snowden, and also Bradley Manning, at his word, and I don’t know why that should not at least be considered, they entered into their positions as young, idealistic patriots, already inside the bubble. Being young, what they saw and learned changed them.

I don't know about Manning, but the reporting I've seen on the Snowden case says that he was already planning to do a document dump of some kind when he took the job with Booz Allen, and allegedly was in contact with Glenn Greenwald (the Grauniad reporter/commentator who broke the story) before starting the job. Which plans he concealed from his prospective employer. Said employer was under contract to the NSA in order to help run a program which, Snowden alleges, was designed to spy on US citizens in the United States without probable cause. Greenwald is a US citizen residing in Brazil, so the laws restricting the collection of US domestic communications traffic without probable cause do not apply to communications between Snowden and Greenwald. (US law seems to be anything goes WRT international communications, and Greenwald's history as a national security gadfly would make him a person of interest to the watchers.) So take your pick: (1) Booz Allen should have known what Snowden was up to, but didn't; (2) they knew what he was up to, and they let him do it anyway (for reasons which may be honorable or otherwise), or (3) Snowden is a sociopathic liar, and should have been weeded out on those grounds. In cases (1) and (3), I would have expected somebody to publicly either fall on his sword or be fired, even if it was a low-level HR flunky, just for the sake of optics. I may be incorrect in assuming that Booz Allen has any aptitude at addressing optics problems.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 13 Aug 2013 #permalink

@daedelus2u: There are steps short of a full shutdown that electricity companies can take, and probably would have to take in a Carrington scenario, because the lead time for those is shorter than for most geomagnetic storms. (Carrington spotted the flare at about 1100 London time; the storm hit about 18 hours later, allowing telegraph operators in the northeastern US to operate on induced ground currents alone that night.)

One of the big issues is that grid interconnections create a very long effective antenna. The eastern US grid interconnection (one of three major grid systems in the US) covers from Maine west to Montana and south to Miami. We're talking 2000 km of antenna. The ~1000 km line between James Bay and Montreal (at particularly susceptible latitudes, and over a terrain of particularly susceptible rock) was enough to cause the March 1989 storm (the biggest of the satellite era, estimated to be about 1/3 the strength of the Carrington event) to bring down the electricity network for the entire province of Quebec. But since then Hydro Quebec has taken steps to harden their transformers, as well as capacitive coupling to ground in order to mitigate the effects of geomagnetically induced currents. Most US operators have not been taking such measures.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 13 Aug 2013 #permalink

"The weak point would be nuclear power plants. They still need lots of power for cooling and running the control systems. That would have to be generated onsite."

So, there is a scenario where a nuke plant shuts partway down just making enough electricity to cool itself, or goes all the way down and uses generators to run the cooling .Then the plasma strikes. This shuts down all the electrical circuitry at the power plant. This means all sensors, control servos, and the cooling system. So the plant heats up and melts down, goes critical, and experiences hydrogen and/or fission-related explosions.

And this happens in all the nuclear power plants in the whole world all at once!!!!!

This is going to make a great movie.

Oh good grief.... I wonder if Snowden really said that, or if it's a fake; Russian media is not reputed for its sterling journalistic ethics, though one might argue whether to place it above or below The Daily Mail. I don't know enough about Russian journalism to say. That said, good grief. Assuming it's legit, then it's just one more notch against my opinion of Snowden and whatever lazy idiot did his clearance investigation.

I mean, if there's a massive, Constitution-defying spying program, that needs to be addressed. But Snowden is definitely an oathbreaker, possibly was intending to break that oath before he even made it, and has rather depressing credentials. He did not plan his escape particularly well, which at least argues against him having been recruited by anybody, or at least anybody competent. (Which is something to be relieved about, I guess.) I'm not too keen on the fact that he abandoned his girlfriend either. And now this.... If he believes this, then he is a grade A kook seriously overinterpreting what he saw at his job.

I mean, this isn't just suggesting the possibility of a Carrington Event for which we are underprepared. No, this is suggesting a specific event, predicted 14 years ago . . . . . . that would not merely disrupt our economy but actually kill most of us. Two months to extinction.

Sorry, that part is just ridiculous. A really really really powerful geomagnetic storm can cripple our power grid and damage our telecommunications networks; this would be devastating to our civilization, but it wouldn't be an extinction event. Assuming the grid can't be repaired within a few months, you'd start seeing starvation related deaths, heat related deaths, cold related deaths. But you wouldn't be seeing a single death due to the solar flare itself, because they are basically harmless to living tissue on Earth. OK, maybe in the higher latitudes a few more people might get cancer. That's about it. It's not like the Sun's going to go nova.

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 13 Aug 2013 #permalink

Lol! Like the CIA knows jack shit about solar flares, and like anyone can predict them 14 years in advance. Riiiight... Snowden's name attached to this is just a red herring.

I am 62 years old, so I should know better by now, but I am amazed at how thoroughly the discussions around Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden has shifted from the content of their messages to the content of the characters. One other point: when anti-GMO, an anti-science folks use language such as "tools of Big Pharma" or "Frankenfood" I just stop reading. When you use terms like "cult members" and "some sexy speaker at a skeptical convention I just met in a bar who has slipped me a Mickey." I just stop reading.

No, you would not try to keep a nuke plant operating on reduced power in the event of a Carrington-type event. You would shut it down, put all the control rods in, make it sub-critical and generate electricity onsite with generators to run what needed to be run with electricity.

As long as the power lines to the power plant were severed, it might be shielded well enough for diesel generators inside it to continue to operate.

The problem is that some very large transformers have a very long lead time (years), and require the products of large factories (steel sheet of specific composition, copper wire, kapton insulation, potting resins). These large factories in turn require large transformers to supply them with power.

There was a recent (last year or so) decision that required emergency power to do the spent fuel cooling to last for 2 years and the reason cited was a Carrington-type event. I remember suggesting that the cheapest solution would likely be putting everything into dry storage instead of a cooling pool.

By daedalus2u (not verified) on 14 Aug 2013 #permalink

Theo51, you must have missed a lot of things in those 62 years if you stop reading as soon as it gets funny. I agree with you about content vs. character, but they are both things that exist, and I happen to be talking about character ... of their supporters, not the men. But, maybe you don't want me to talk about those things. But, you can't tell me not to it turns out!

Daedalus2u, a current generation nuke plant shut down to that level and spent fuel pools still require cooling, right? So this would rely on the power generation system (diesel or whatever) to be shielded and possibly to even be able to be knocked off line and repaired very quickly. (I have a feeling they would do better at the first part and ignore the second part)

Also, I assume none of this is in place now anywhere.

How much heat the spent fuel pools are dissipating depends on when the fuel was replaced. The problem happens if there is a lot of spent fuel present.

They really should get that spent fuel off site and someplace else. You could cool spent fuel with flowing water, as in the open ocean or a river. Not ideal, but better than letting it melt.

The reactor would require pumps for cooling, and there wouldn't be time to remove the fuel. You could have those pumps powered directly by a diesel or a turbine. You would want electricity to monitor everything.

There were several problems that complicated things at Fukishimo. The spent fuel pools went dry, which removed the water that was blocking the radiation. That made the radiation levels at the top of the pools too high for human exposure. The radiation isn't line of sight, it scatters off of thing, even air, so the whole area couldn't be approached.

If they had simply installed piping to allow water to be remotely added to the pools, that would have prevented them from going dry. Once they went dry, the fuel got hot enough for the zirconium to catch on fire and that released the fission products in the spent fuel.

By daedalus2u (not verified) on 15 Aug 2013 #permalink

It is not funny. It is didactic and distracting and self-serving to use such language. We need to be sussing out the truth and examining and giving our takes on the actual actions of NSA folks. There are many, many more articles on all NSA activities than the one that you site. You look for slivers of evidence to support your belief. This is called confirmation bias, as you know. I have no investment for or against Mr. Snowden. I just want to learn what the NSA is doing and try to form an opinion and react to that. How are you "funny" comments any different that the frankenfood" commenters? Ha.