I don’t necessarily want to discuss or debate my opinions regarding Edward Snowden and his slow leak of allegedly damning information about snooping and spying by various United States government entities. I think the reality of what the government does, and what Snowden has revealed, is far more complex in both scope, execution, and purpose than any of us realize; including Mr. Snowden himself. Instead, I want to discuss a statement he released Tuesday with the help of global transparency hypocrites Wikileaks.
In the last week or so, it has been revealed that Snowden deliberately sought employment with an NSA contractor in order to gather what he considers to be damning information about American spying. He had unique access in his role as a systems administrator or infrastructure analyst – in any event, a sort of superuser of the computer systems that American intelligence agencies use to spy on people. Not content with merely revealing NSA secrets concerning the collection of telephone metadata and storage of recorded content, Snowden has become a celebrity of sorts, cheered by myriad repressive regimes hostile to the US, thanks to his revelations about some of the ways in which the US spies on foreign nationals, governments, and entities.
This isn’t a post to discuss the propriety of Snowden’s leak, or even necessarily to mock his amateur hour escape from Hong Kong, as he now finds himself unable to travel, stuck in the transit area of Moscow’s Shermeteyevo Airport. This is about his statement, which begins thusly,
One week ago I left Hong Kong after it became clear that my freedom and safety were under threat for revealing the truth. My continued liberty has been owed to the efforts of friends new and old, family, and others who I have never met and probably never will. I trusted them with my life and they returned that trust with a faith in me for which I will always be thankful.
Snowden is engaging in propaganda or has deluded himself into thinking that the government would sanction violence against him. I think he’s got a high enough profile that there’s unlikely to be any threat to his safety – merely to his freedom. He has, after all, been charged with a crime. I doubt he expected a parade.
On Thursday, President Obama declared before the world that he would not permit any diplomatic “wheeling and dealing” over my case. Yet now it is being reported that after promising not to do so, the President ordered his Vice President to pressure the leaders of nations from which I have requested protection to deny my asylum petitions.
Right. No wheeling and dealing – just handed over to face charges will do nicely. Ecuador – which is harboring accused sex offender Julian Assange in its UK Embassy – is all, “Snowden who?” After seeking asylum in Putin’s Russia, Snowden withdrew that application after Putin said Snowden could stay, as long as he stopped harming the US. In reality, Snowden would be Putin’s big bargaining chip in any future negotiation with Washington over anything important to the Kremlin.
This kind of deception from a world leader is not justice, and neither is the extralegal penalty of exile. These are the old, bad tools of political aggression. Their purpose is to frighten, not me, but those who would come after me.
Your passport – and Snowden’s – clearly states that it remains property of the government at all times, and the State Department retains the right to revoke anyone’s passport, especially when they’ve been charged with a federal crime. I’m hard-pressed to believe that Snowden is so naive as to think that Washington would continue to let him have freedom of movement when he’s a wanted fugitive.
For decades the United States of America have been one of the strongest defenders of the human right to seek asylum. Sadly, this right, laid out and voted for by the U.S. in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is now being rejected by the current government of my country. The Obama administration has now adopted the strategy of using citizenship as a weapon. Although I am convicted of nothing, it has unilaterally revoked my passport, leaving me a stateless person. Without any judicial order, the administration now seeks to stop me exercising a basic right. A right that belongs to everybody. The right to seek asylum.
Interesting construct, there. Notice the use of the plural voice after “United States of America”. Something united is singular. Setting style aside, the US does indeed grant asylum to people who fear persecution at home due to their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Snowden is none of these things and has a tremendous amount of chutzpah to equate himself with someone escaping military dictatorship in Burma, nationalist harassment in Bhutan, or sectarian violence and chaos in Iraq. Snowden is just another lawbreaker.
Snowden conflates citizenship with possession of a travel document. No one has rendered him a stateless person – he remains a citizen of the United States until such time as he formally renounces it. He has merely lost his right to use a travel document because he is a wanted fugitive. Without papers, the only country to which he can now travel is the United States, unless some third party provides him with a temporary travel document such as a laissez passer, which the United Nations issues to some of its personnel. Russia could feasibly treat him as a refugee and issue an identity card for Snowden to use to travel to a third country, but it has not formally granted him entry to Russian territory. Snowden’s best chance to remain “free” is for some third world despot to grant him some form of asylum leading to immediate citizenship and a passport. Reports are that Snowden has applied for asylum to 20 countries, and so far has been met with rejection. He withdrew his request for asylum in Russia, because of Putin’s conditions.
In the end, Snowden is not a persecuted person. He is a common fugitive accused felon and is not entitled to the rights and privileges associated with “asylum”.
In the end the Obama administration is not afraid of whistleblowers like me, Bradley Manning or Thomas Drake. We are stateless, imprisoned, or powerless. No, the Obama administration is afraid of you. It is afraid of an informed, angry public demanding the constitutional government it was promised — and it should be.
I am unbowed in my convictions and impressed at the efforts taken by so many.
Edward Joseph Snowden
Monday 1st July 2013
Snowden has a background as a CIA agent who operated in Europe. Yet for someone supposedly knowledgable about spycraft and the surveillance capabilities of the US government, this seems so amateur hour. He’s now got Wikileaks writing press releases for him, and he effectively proclaims himself to be a martyr for a larger cause. I don’t think the Obama Administration is afraid of Snowden or Manning. Everyone knows the US spies on other countries. Everyone knows we engage in complicated diplomatic issues on an hourly basis all over the world.
There is certainly a debate and discussion to be had about the surveillance state and the way in which it is overseen and operated. I find somewhat persuasive the arguments commending Snowden for giving us more information about the scope and methods of the surveillance. But I do not think that Snowden’s “leaks” about American spying on foreign persons or governments is at all helpful, and find that to be particularly galling. He’s the contemporary version of the Cambridge Five – laptops replace the one-time pad – but instead of giving information to another country (although they probably got all of it anyway), he’s leaking what he can through the media.
I don’t think Snowden is a hero or a villain, but I do think he should stop whining and face the consequences for what he’s done.
He’s not subject to persecution – just prosecution under the law.