The surprising news that Edward Snowden escaped Hong Kong, apparently with the connivance of the Chinese authorities, and arrived in Moscow (with the connivance of Vladimir Putin), made me realize that this international incident has taken on overtones of old-fashioned Cold War cloak and dagger. The principles that motivated Snowden to become a whistle-blower and expose the massive international spying and data-mining of the NSA, are rapidly being subsumed by geopolitical maneuvering from Washington DC to Beijing to Moscow.
These great powers should begin to realize that they each have interests that could be served by reaching a resolution of this impasse. Way back in the old days (and even as recently as a few years ago), when we had somebody of theirs and they had somebody of ours there was a prisoner exchange. So why not now, in this situation?
I can think any number of prisoners on either side who could be part of a swap. In return for the U.S. dropping charges against Snowden, the Chinese could offer to free their Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo, the Russians could release the two imprisoned members of Pussy Riot and Mikhail Khodorovsky, who’s been in prison for over a decade and faces a virtual life sentence (until Putin falls from power).
Snowden could settle in an agreed upon third country like Ecuador or Iceland. Khodorovsky could leave Russia, and Pussy Riot, should it wish to, could leave as well. Liu could join another Chinese dissident, Chen Guangcheng, in this country.
The U.S. would do well to consider this since once (or if) Snowden reaches Ecuador, he’s no longer within U.S. reach. At that point, Obama will have lost any leverage and the man American pols and spooks are calling a “traitor” will be free. Snowden, if he wishes, could thumb his nose at his pursuers and spend the rest of his life needling the U.S. and spilling his secrets (as long as he has them) day by day and drop by drop.
Wouldn’t it make more sense, be a more principled resolution, for the U.S. to get something in return for dropping charges against Snowden? Wouldn’t the U.S. save face if it could retrieve something of value in the form of the freedom of others unjustly held in China and/or Russia?
It’s possibly a slightly odd proposal, but it sure makes sense more than the highly destabilizing series of events that’s played out over the past few weeks. Think of this, how many more revelations can the NSA take about its work inside and outside the U.S.? So far, Snowden has exposed massive data collection by British intelligence, massive NSA hacking into tens of thousands of Chinese internet and phone accounts. Next he’ll reveal what the NSA has on Putin and the Russians. How much of this can we stand? My advice: Barack, do a deal. Get this thing settled. It’s only going to get worse. At this point, it’s drowned out any policy or legislative agenda the president might have had for weeks. It could drag on much longer. Does the president want his entire term hijacked with the slow drip of Chinese water torture disclosures?
Further, imagine the U.S. succeeds in a dramatic capture of Snowden and, with its usual flourish in these matters, determines to prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law. Then, instead of an interesting civil liberties and constitutional rights issue of interest to a small cross-section of American policy wonks and human rights activists, you’d have a movement in the making. Snowden’s prosecution would threaten to become a media circus. It might allow both libertarian Republicans and liberal Democrats to coalesce around an issue that could resonate in ways similar to how Occupy Wall Street originated.
Of course, I could be overestimating the gravitas of this scandal. Perhaps it would remain one whose damage could be contained even after Snowden’s arrest and prosecution. But I think Obama’s in for a surprise if he brings Snowden to justice. Just look at what it took to bring hundreds of thousands to the streets of Istanbul: a bunch of threatened trees in a park. Does Obama want to risk it?
If anyone wants to argue that a Snowden prosecution would be similar to the Manning prosecution, I disagree. They can’t try Snowden in Guantanamo. They’d have to try him in a U.S. court. Further, Manning is a soldier and most Americans object to a soldier doing what he did. But Snowden, despite working for spooks, is a civilian. No amount of yammering from Keith Alexander about the danger Snowden exposed our agents to will convince Americans that his whistle-blowing didn’t have an important principle at its root.
On a slightly different note: it would appear to me that Glenn Greenwald would not be eligible to win a Pulitzer Prize, since he publishes in the Guardian, which isn’t a U.S. media outlet. But if anyone deserves it, it’s Greenwald. Perhaps it’s stretching it, but…if the Nobel committee could award an entirely undeserving Barack Obama a Nobel Peace Prize, why not award one jointly to Snowden and Greenwald? Wouldn’t you love to see Snowden accept his award by video feed from the president’s palace in Ecuador?
Your thoughts are interesting.
I saw a petition on “We The People”, Whitehouse site, to “pardon” Edward Snowden.
(and one to save Bristol Bay, started today. 1 vote so far).
On Charlie Rose, Friday, a review of new movie, ” Attack ” (or, the attack).
The Director is tri-national, Lebanese, U.S. and French.
Doctor, married for years, is told by Israeli police his wife is a suicide bomber. He cannot believe it he looks for “answers”.
Permission was not given to film in Lebanon, apparently. Filmed in Israel
Are you gonna review World War Z Richard?
Nessim Dayan says
Nothing but a show off in need of recognition.- ‘HEY PEOPLE LOOK AT HOW MUCH I KNOW AND YOU DON’T’
do you really believe he knows the value/damage? never entered his mind. the power deriving from the amount of secrets overwhelmed him and perverted his senses. nothing but an overdosed drug addict who blurts out stuff without knowing the difference between good and evil. he maybe a genius at his line of work but that does not give him the equivalent judgement that 100’s of people work day and night trying to find the proper balance for universal protection. i doubt it.
why enable, speculate? to demean the rest by covering them with the tent of darth vader is also demeaning. their misguided goal to find terrorism at ANY PRICE may or may not be appropriate but then again once they leave/lose the power of their position they ALSO fall into the multitude they spy on. so they ALSO have to protect themselves whether INSIDE AND/OR OUTSIDE their positions.
no i do not think for one moment that this kid/child supercomputer super genius is able to judge all that and say HERE THIS INFO/DATA IS EVIL I AM YOUR TRUE PROTECTOR. is he?
The moment that you brought in the idea of “good” and “evil” leaves the entirety of your comment to naught else but derision and howls of laughter.
There is no good, nor evil in this story. What this is about is the abrogation of fundamental civil liberties and rights because of governmental mistrust. We now have it in black and white that the only difference between “unfree” nations such as China or Iran and the western democracies is that they are repressing their populace in a more open manner.
In fact, the differences in freedom just take on some culturally influenced idiosyncrasies rather than some measurable differences. There is even a very strong trend of (self-)censure of the nations’ media.
If you wish to believe that this amount of spying is necessary for a war “against terror”, then you’re hopelessly naive.
I just buried any idea of the West being “democratic” and “free, based on universal human rights”. Our governments are just as bad as those of China or Russia. If you know the rules over there, you can live as unmolested/molested as in the West.
If you value the freedom of thought and movement, the current news are as bad as they can get. It is no hyperbole to state that we are living in fascist states, not unlike Germany under Hitler or Italy under Mussolini, except that we are not hunting Jews, yet. But we come close to hunting Muslims.
I am shocked and not entirely sure what to do.
if you think the war on terror exists ONLY in my you’re most invited to leave in israel when the real rockets flares are over your head literally
you’re deluded that terrorist follow the constitutiln, tell that to terry mcvane, delusional who think the constitution is all the shield against flying bullets
just like the ultra orthodox who won’t do the army because the torah is all is needed against ak47 bullets
Roberto Rodriguez says
Dear Mr. Silverstein:
I agree with your idea. It has many benefits (especially to free Mikhail Khodorovsky and Liu Xiaobo).
As for Snowden, I was sympathetic until he showed sort of close to China, Russia, Ecuador and (hopefully just gossip) Venezuela.
As a Venezuelan living in Venezuela, I can testify that the Venezuelan government is antidemocratic and corrupt. Almost 15 year of abuses can confirm it.
” Venezuelan government is antidemocratic”, if so why do the people keep on re-electing them. That is your problem. Will you consider an invasion by the US Marines that put’s up a new government more “democratic”?: you know sort like it was between 1900 and 15 years ago.
C’mon, don’t be silly. Any deal is based on mutual interests or, at least, what’s perceived to be such.
Khodrokovsky and Pussy Riot serve (NSA’s perceived) American interests far better rotting within Putin’s Gulag than they ever could out of it.
Similarly, Snowden and Assange – and Manning, for that matter – serve today’s KGB’s interests better being persecuted and hounded around the globe than they ever could otherwise.
These powers rely on their rivals’ deprivation to justify their own.
Dave Terry says
Who is the enemy?
We have bipartisan agreement.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney says “Snowden is a traitor”
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calf.) says: “I think it’s an act of treason”
Republican Speaker of the House Boehner says Snowden is a traitor Democratic Senator Bill Nelson on Snowden: an “act of treason.”
Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton: “Edward Snowden is a traitor
who has “committed an act of war against the United States”
Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss “If he is not a traitor, then he’s pretty darn close to it”.
But if Snowden’s deed was treason, who was the enemy he helped? The people most affected by Snowden’s revelation are not foreign spies. They know that no communication lines are secure.
The people most affected by Snowden’s revelations are us, the people of America. We’re the ones just now learning that we live in a police state. The NSA records all our telephone calls, all our internet messages, and all our bank and credit card transactions.
The NSA may search electronically for anything, anywhere. Cheney, Feinstein, Boehner, Bolton, Chambliss, Nelson, and all their friends have revived the Writ of Assistance, the general search
warrant of King George III that was a primary cause of the American Revolution.
We the People are the ones who just now learned that Democratic and Republican politicians, standing together behind Cheney, Feinstein, Boehner, Bolton, Chambliss, Nelson, and all their
friends, have shredded our Constitution and Bill of Rights.
We’re the people who Snowden helped.
Cheney, Feinstein, Boehner, Nelson, Bolton, Chambliss, and all their establishment friends have made it very clear: Americans are the people they do not trust. Americans are the people who must be watched and monitored and spied upon. Americans are the menace.
Americans are the enemy.
Cheney, Feinstein, Boehner, Nelson, Bolton, Chambliss, and all their establishment friends prove by their deeds that we are their enemies. They wage electronic warfare on all of us.
But that coin has a second side. If we are their enemy, it must be the case:
THEY ARE OUR ENEMIES. Cheney, Feinstein, Boehner, Nelson, Bolton, Chambliss and their establishment cronies. They’re the enemies of all Americans.
We need to correct matters, with the boxes that count: The Soap box. The donation box. The ballot box.
Dave Terry – well stated.
We, the people, are the enemy that the Powers-That-Be are intent on enslaving so “they” can prosper. We the people who thought we had a real democracy in the US, one so strong that it barely required much attention, other than at voting time.
Snowden is one of us, the not so powerful and not-so-rich. If Those who label him “traitor; mean only that he is a traitor to the Oligarch class. But to us he is a hero, because he put himself on the line so the rest of us will know what’s afoot. too bad that ‘the rest of us” is still so few in numbers.
I do take comfort from the fact that what Snowden has done exposed the true face of the American System for all in the world to see. I take especial comfort imagining the desperate reshuffle of talking points when time comes to yet again give the chinese a lecture on Cyber-security and “Internet Freedom”, or just “Freedom”.
Out there, in the world at large, people, ordinary people, or at least those who follow what’s happening are united in their verdict – go Snowden – we support you, even if we can’t give you shelter.
Well what would USA have done or would do if a Russian or Chinese agent would reveal equal information Snowden does? US government and media would use the situation and maximize their propaganda efforts. And give them a political asylum plus a couple of million dollars. Of course most Russia, Chinese, Europeans, Arabs etc smile with justified schadenfreude when the real nature of UPSA (United Police Sates of America) is revealed. Already before USA had incising credibility difficulties in expressing its constant human rights propaganda and making demands to other countries. Now nobody takes US hypocritical human rights demands and comments seriously. Presently it is a proven fact that the great moralist has no moral. What can USA say to China and Russia? Do not behave as we do.
Considering Pussy Riot and Khodorkovsky as Putin’s Gulag prisoners is a bit amusing. A couple of Pussy Riot members were just a while ago in Finland, they all are not in a gulag. Let us remember what those imprisoned Pussy Riot girls did. They made a rather tasteless noisy political demonstration in a Russian main church. There is no single democratic country in the world which would allow Churches, Mosques, Synagogs etc to be used to such improvised loud rock-style political demonstrations in the style Pussy Riot did and let them go unpunished.
Khodorkovsky collected in a couple of years a wast fortune and it is certain that it was not done using legal normal “methods”. The speed in which those mostly Jewish oligarchs managed to clean the Russian economy and transfer unimaginable wast fortunes in their own pockets was nothing else than a robbery based on their contacts with organized crime, old political order and corruption. Khodorkovsky made the mistake that he could not control his appetite and begun aggressively to use his fortunes to buy openly political power. Considering Khodorkovsky as a pure political prisoner is like believing, that Bernard Madoff is in a US prison simply because of being a Jew and for his opinions.
zhu bajie says
Wang Lijun tried to take sanctuary in the US Consulate in Chengdu, not long ago, with all kinds of dirt about Chinese high level politics. He didn’t get sanctuary.
A long time ago, I was warned that if I, as a US citizen, got into serious trouble overseas, don’t go to the US Embassy for help; go to the Canadians.
The exponential growth of the American Surveillance State was necessitated, after 9-11, in order to continue the SAME Neocon and Israeli Lobby-dictated American foreign policies that brought the blowback against such policies that were the 9-11 attacks.
At that time America had the choice to change course from the increasingly dangerous and radical Neocon and Israeli Lobby policies, all fixed around propping up and making the Israeli Apartheid state possible, and continuing the Israeli/American hegemonic control over the Middle East so feverishly sought by the Neocons/Israeli Lobby – versus diving deeper into the Surveillance State we see today as necessary to try to avert FURTHER blowback from CONTINUING Neocon/Israeli Lobby-bought policies
Well we sure crossed that Rubicon, now didn’t we?
Just look at the Israeli/Neocon-published ‘Clean Break Plan’, or the Yinon Plan, both based on tearing the Middle East apart into elemental tribal or feudal fiefdoms, all easily dominated by Israel
Just watch all the Neocons and the rest of the Israeli Lobby defend the ‘Police State as Necessary for Continued Pro-Israel/Neocon Policies’, the Surveillance State as necessary to continue our Neocon/Israeli contributions to the ‘Clean Break Plan’ and support of Eretz Israel
Instead of adopting the a Surveillance State or Police State – America should have STOPPED the AIPAC-bought foreign policy that has brought such disasters to America such as 9-11 and the Iraq War (which we were lied into by the Neocons), and the Syrian War and a War against Iran that the Neocons and Israel are doing everything under the sun to lie us into presently.
Just watch the entire Neocon/Israeli Lobby lineup – from David Gregory, Andrea Mitchell, and Tom Friedman, to William Kristol and William Woolsey, and Senators Feinstein, McCain, and Chuck Schumer – ALL LINED UP and defending America as a Police State, surveilled by not only the NSA but by Israel herself
These people are the ones America should be worried about – and how and why (answered above) – they sold us down the river for Israel
These Neocons/Israeli Lobby members will never stop working for Israel until Apartheid in Israel is dismantled and the instability Apartheid brought to Israel and her Israeli Lobby trying to defend such an unstable Apartheid state ceases completely
David Trainor on TheRealNews goes after the propagandist David Gregory in last Sunday’s Meet the Press vs. his attempts to sabotage Glenn Greenwald
Trainor brilliantly equates David Gregory as a ‘Yellow Journalist’ pushing the Straussian-Neocon line, that Gregory is basically just a ‘Project for a New American Century’ propagandist pushing the Neocon/Israeli line
I just get really excited that fresh voices are breaking thru and SPECIFICALLY identifying the Neocons and Israeli involvement in the American narrative, media, and foreign policy.
I watched ‘Morning Joe’ this AM and saw EVERY SINGLE guest in unanimous defense of David Gregory vs Glenn Greenwald – every guest was given a moment to try to rescue this Neocon shill Gregory from the bleeding wounds left by Greenwald. Then they had ex-CIA director James Woolsey on to give his usual Neocon rant. Rachel Maddow is on board with the notorious Andrea ‘Israeli Talking Points’ Mitchell as well, that Snowden is a criminal, etc, etc, blah hasbara blah
zhu bajie says
The Three Great Lies of America, updated:
1) “We’re defending you from terrorism!”
2) “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve nothing to fear!”
3) “You still have more rights than in China!”
zhu bajie says
One good thing out of all this nonsense: I will start reading South China Morning Post regularly, as well as Asia Times Online. They have done the best reporting.
Zhu, alive in the bitter sea
zhu bajie says
Till now, Americans have not gotten worked up about secret prisons, “disappearances,” kangaroo courts, judicial torture, judicial assassination after being fingered by some secret Committee of Public Safety. Now, finally, people are upset at the Gigantic Brother spy operation. Maybe they can no longer pretend that it’s only *other people* who are being harmed?
“Just look at what it took to bring hundreds of thousands to the streets of Istanbul: a bunch of threatened trees in a park.”
It wasn’t just the trees that brought people out.
Amberin Zaman wriites:
My overall impression, and it’s commonly shared, is that the Taksim Park project has morphed into a vehicle for popular resentment against Erdogan’s increasingly dismissive and authoritarian ways. Under a decade of AKP rule, Turkey has become the world’s top jailer of journalists. Its interventionist policy in Syria is causing alarm. The systematic and disproportionate use of force against the slightest display of dissent obscures that the AKP was democratically elected and remains the most popular government in modern Turkish history. Yet, egged on by the slavishly self-censoring Turkish media, Erdogan seems increasingly out of touch.
As for Snowden, I can assure you there won’t hundreds of thousands of protestors taking to the steets if he gets banged up for life.
Richard Silverstein says
@Calig: I can assure you there will be serious protests if/when the U.S. government seizes Edward Snowden and sends him to prison. I will join them in any way I can and help them to grow in any way I can.
I write regularly on a progressive political blog in the US from The Netherlands, on the Edward Snowden issue I’m a lone voice. Of the other bloggers and readers, 99% consider him a traitor. Americans close ranks on issues of “national security” especially as his Odyssey from HK to Moscow makes it an “international complot against the US”.
Wishful thinking, I’m afraid.
The evolutionarily-challenged, Fox-viewing masses would let countless innocent lives be sacrificed to gun-manufacturers’ greed rather than endanger their debatable “constitutional” right to bear arms. The NRA is responsible for the loss of more American civilians than Bin Laden, yet they can sell their arms unchecked.
Yet again, these very same masses wouldn’t dream of defending their most obvious rights for privacy as long as its violators brand their unchecked transgressions as “War on Terror”.