PRISM planet: Obama’s global cat & mouse game with Snowden
The Snowden saga has it all: a stealthy former CIA employee
turned principled whistleblower, passionate journalists bringing
disclosures to light, and all the diplomatic twists and turns of
a big government that hates losing face pressuring other
countries to turnover their man. So, what does an Empire look
like after its been poked in the eye? It would resemble that of
Washington today, which is privately fuming and gritting teeth
in-between White House press conferences, where the US is meting
out strong statements slamming Beijing, and pressuring Russia to
detain Snowden and send him back to the US for trial. White House
spokesmen Jay Carney held steadfast to antagonistic rhetoric,
supposing that if Snowden were really an advocate for
transparency, freedom of the press and protection of individual
rights and democracy, he would not run into the embrace of
countries like China, Russia, and Ecuador. The executive branch
has made its opinion clear, but what other rich and substantive
views dominate the US media landscape in the coverage of the
unfolding Snowden drama?
Fox News analyst Ralph Peters called for subjecting Snowden and other treasonous figures to the death penalty, while prominent media figures have called for The Guardian's journalist Glenn Greenwald to be charged with “aiding and abetting” the fugitive Snowden. It’s not easy keeping a straight face when watching Dick Cheney being interviewed on television railing against the “crimes” of Edward Snowden, and its practically impossible to fight the urgent need to face palm when hearing US Secretary of State John Kerry play on scare tactics that the US would be “attacked because terrorists may now know how to protect themselves” from the sweeping NSA surveillance apparatus brought to light by the now infamous whistleblower on the lam.
PRISM is about fighting terrorism, but little stands in the way
of the White House putting ‘activists’ or dissidents’ into the
same basket as ‘terrorists’; in other words, the purpose of this
mass surveillance is primarily for gathering intelligence on
individuals that are troublesome to the establishment. The US
intelligence establishment, being as hyperactive as it is, wants
a file on everybody – and with zero public accountability,
nothing stops them from monitoring Occupiers, Libertarians, and
other dissidents under the guise of thwarting terrorism. As the
situation develops and the US postures itself as a freer nation
than those which Snowden has made his stopovers in, the hypocrisy
of that narrative has become all the more glaring.
Is the US waging war on whistleblowers & journalists?
When the US isn’t waging a war on drugs, or waging cyber war, or waging drone wars, or waging actual war, it’s recently taken to waging war on leakers and hard-hitting reporters. Let’s be clear – even during the early days of the Patriot Act, which drastically lowered the bar on the legal requirements for suspicious individuals to be spied on, nobody thought that the NSA and the authorities concerned could ever enact such a sweeping program like PRISM, which gives the government unprecedented and intimate access into private email exchanges, phone calls, video chats, and numerous other areas. Regardless of whether or not this program has been abused by authorities isn’t the question – the very existence of such a program represents the administration’s grave misinterpretation of its own mandate, and an enormous betrayal of public trust. Whether dealing with revelations of mass surveillance, the leaking of US diplomatic cables, or bringing video evidence of US war crimes to the forefront, there is a growing tendency in the US establishment to portray sources of controversial information as being treasonous and anti-patriotic in nature.
Political personalities and pundits often fan the flames of these reactionary opinions when journalists publish information that may blur the line between activism and journalism. Obama has charged more whistleblowers than any other previous presidential administration, invoking the WWI-era Espionage Act to criminalize figures like Snowden and others with aiding the enemy. If Snowden really intended to do harm to the United States, he could have compromised the safety of intelligence officials by revealing the identities of undercover CIA agents embedded in various parts of the world, and other things that could harm more than just Washington’s diplomatic standing in the world. Snowden claims to have released only the information that would benefit the public good, and if he comes forward to release more information that suggests that Washington has acted outside of national and international law in its cyber security programs or foreign adventures, many countries would sympathize with Snowden and view his actions as morally justifiable.
The China Equation
Behind the handshakes and smiles of Obama’s meet up with Chinese
President Xi Jinping in California, the Snowden saga had broken
and began making international headlines. Snowden’s revelations
lent strong credibility to Chinese assertions that they are
victims of hacking, not the main perpetrators of it, as
Washington maintains. Recent leaks detail how the US government
has been hacking Chinese mobile phone networks to intercept
millions of text messages, hacking the operator of the region’s
fibre optic cable network, as well as hacking the servers at
Tsinghua University, one of country’s biggest research
institutions. If the US was on the receiving end of such
far-reaching hacks, it would certainly not be quiet – nor would
it honor requests by the aggressor nation to ‘extradite the
messenger,’ as it were. Beijing has no illusions, and
commentary in China’s official news agencies suggest that.
China’s Xinhua news agency says that US government owes the world an explanation, and called Washington “the biggest villain” of cyber attacks, while claiming to be innocent. In the Globaltimes, a Chinese daily that reflects the views of the establishment in Beijing, an op-ed was published that suggested that the Chinese government attempt to extract useful information from Snowden, noting that “Snowden is a political offender against the US, but what he is doing benefits the world” and that “public opinion will turn against China's central government and the Hong Kong SAR government if they choose to send him back.” White House spokesman Jay Carney called Snowden’s escape from Hong Kong a “deliberate choice by the [Beijing] government to release a fugitive, despite a valid arrest warrant,” prior to claiming that the move would hurt US-China relations. The forecast here is pretty clear, expect a great deal of chill and enhanced mutual distrust. (And probably a lot more hacking.)
Let the Putin-bashing begin…
These days, when Kerry isn’t preoccupied trying to arm militants
and non-state actors in Syria (a strong case can be made that
these figures fit the definition of ‘terrorists’), he’s warning
Americans of the dangers posed by terrorists, who now have the
upper hand to attack America thanks to the criminality of pesky
whistleblowers – or so the US mythology goes. At the time as this
article was being written, President Putin confirmed that Snowden
is staying in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport,
where he is presumably arranging his political asylum and onward
travel to Quito with Ecuadorian diplomats, and that he is free to
go. This move will undoubtedly result in increasingly sour
relations with the US, which will be coming at the Kremlin with
huge diplomatic pressure to hand Snowden over. The Russian
administration’s choice not to honor the extradition request, as
the US has done in numerous cases, will see the White House and
their cheerleaders in the US media come down hard on the Putin
The recent photograph of Obama and Putin awkwardly sitting side-by-side with hands folded and eyes to the ground perfectly captures the mood of US-Russian relations, and it looks as if that kind of chill is the new normal. It is also unwise of the White House to contentiously downplay Russia’s commitment to transparency, democracy, and freedom of the press while asking the Kremlin to hand Snowden over. There is little that the US can do if Russia or Ecuador continues to allow Snowden to pursue political asylum, though it may make it harder for citizens of those countries to get US visas, or it could even drag the diplomatic tussle into the economic sphere by delaying investment deals or making it difficult to import goods into US markets. Two things are certain at this point: the Snowden saga won’t end quietly, and 'BigBama’s' gonna keep watching you… for your own safety from evil terrorists, of course.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.