Has Snowden Just Misplayed His Cards?

It may seem a bit presumptuous to question how Edward Snowden has conducted his affairs so far. After all, he is still alive and not in the tender care of the so-called American justice system, despite having crossed the surveillance arm of the world’s only superpower and fomenting multiple diplomatic uproars. Of course, the irony is the scandal ought to be about the conduct, but America’s putative allies are and probably remain fully on board with the “all spying all the time” program. It’s the nasty bit that their citizens were kept in the dark about the extent and intensity of the snooping and many of these countries pretend to be functioning democracies. And the spectacle of tech companies too often happily selling out their customers for a little DoD intelligence isn’t too pretty either.

So the political part of Snowden’s project seems to be going as well as he could have hoped. He’s made clear that if something were to happen to him, the revelations would continue, which suggests he’s either handed copies over to the Guardian or arranged some sort of fail-safe. And if the Guardian does have a full set of what Snowden took with him, he’s effectively ceded control (as in were Snowden were to have a change of heart, he couldn’t prevent the Guardian from continuing to publish). Snowden has even managed to stir Le Monde to publish its investigation of the French intelligence services, which has created more consternation.

But it isn’t clear Snowden has been as adept in his personal affairs of late. Admittedly, anyone commenting on Snowden’s movements has only a very limited vantage. But his first gambit, going to Hong Kong, was brilliant, for the reasons recounted by MsExPat, including: he’d be safer there than just about anywhere (the US wouldn’t dare try rendering him and even assassination would be difficult); the legal system is very slow, careful, and deliberate; and he’d have tons of superb lawyers falling all over each other to represent him for free. The one risk was that Beijing might relent and decide to tell the Hong Kong authorities to extradite him, but most commentators thought that would make a mockery of the special standing that Beijing was keen to maintain for Hong Kong, and would also look like Beijing bowing to US wishes.

So why did he leave? One school of thought is that Snowden was given word quietly that Beijing was increasingly uncomfortable with his presence and he’d better get out while the getting was good. But I’m persuaded by MsExPat’s theory, that Snowden fell prey to a massive cultural misunderstanding. Remember, as smart as he is, he was only 29 and has almost certainly not had much experience hiring or managing lawyers, particularly on something high stakes and cutting edge (dealing with lawyers on novel legal matters can be particularly trying). Her assessment:

It’s looking like Snowden’s decision to flee Hong Kong was a hasty, and bad one. Based on my experience with Hong Kong lawyers, I suspect he panicked–the legal style there is to sit down with a client and then lay out in excruciating detail all the worst things that could happen to you during the progress of your case. This can be quite scary. But the actual reality usually turns out to not be quite as bad. At least one Hong Kong human rights lawyer thinks Snowden might have emerged okay from Hong Kong’s legal process:

“He obviously chose to go to Moscow, though I don’t know why. I wouldn’t have,” said Patricia Ho of Hong Kong law firm Daly & Associates, who isn’t involved in the case. She said Mr. Snowden had had a range of options still open to him before he left Hong Kong, including filing for asylum or contesting the U.S.’s request in the city’s robust judicial system.

Remember, this is almost the polar opposite of the style of most US professionals, which is to sound super reassuring and if they have bad news, to dribble it out interspersed with what if anything might be done.

Now I am getting more speculative, in the spirit of encourage knowledgeable readers to pipe up. Snowden had other ways to exit Hong Kong, whatever his reasons. Lambert’s favorite is to Macau and then to Hanoi via ship and then to fly from there; he apparently considered leaving to get to Ecuador via Singapore. He also appears to have relied on Wikileaks for advice. This does not appear to have been wise. Readers are welcome to correct me, but to my knowledge Wikileaks does not have a lot of experience in dealing with litigation or asylum cases (one case, Assange, does not make you seasoned, and even then, what you had learned would to a significant degree country specific). And some of its litigation calls look awfully questionable.

The other valuable service from an attorney would being able to make contacts with the diplomatic community. Wikileaks was able to effect that with Ecuador but then alienated them with the row over the unsigned safe conduct pass. It is also not clear how good Wikileaks contacts are outside Ecuador. Remember that Wikileaks released a large trove of diplomatic cables. Yes, they were US cables, but the revelations often embarrassed foreign diplomats. So it’s not hard to imagine that they don’t have a lot of friends in that world.

The fact that Snowden flew to Moscow and was apparently planning to continue to go on to Cuba but didn’t (recall the empty plane seat and the Wikileaks representative going without him) suggests some element of their plan was found to be awry after they took off (did they not anticipate that his passport would be cancelled? Or were they worried about having their flight route changed and being forced to land in a country that would be willing to detain and extradite him?).

There are two important things to remember about Snowden’s position in the transit area in Russia. First, Putin has taken the position that it isn’t Russian territory. That means he can’t eject Snowden. Second, Putin has also said, loudly, that Russia does not have an extradition treaty in the US and does not extradite people (this is why continuing US demands that Russia extradite Snowden are either deranged or playing to the American public).

That should mean that Snowden can stay in the transit zone as long as he wants to (or at least as long as he can fund staying there). True, Putin has cleared his throat recently and said it really would behoove Snowden to get his act together and get out. But Putin also seems to be very big on his manhood. Having made such definitive pronouncements about the status of the transit zone it would be a big reversal to act otherwise.

So what is Snowden’s immediate problem? It seems to be 1. Flying over countries friendly enough to the US that might do to him what they did to Evo Morales, force a plane landing and 2. Having to enter a country in the course of his travels when he has no passport or travel documents. But the latter can be waved; I know people personally who managed (I am not making this up) to get to an international destination with no passport and eventually get in (admittedly a few hours of discussion, very elaborate examination of all luggage, but ultimately, an influential local vouching for them was sufficient). A long Reuters story did find some options: flying on a commercial plane (they have the right of overflight without permission; by contrast, government planes like Morales’s need consent), flying to Tehran (but where do you go from there?) or going over land for part of the trip (but Russia’s fingerprints would be on that). Maybe Snowden needs an official Venezuelan litter to take him to a Venezuelan car and then to the embassy in Moscow to at least get him out of Putin’s hair for now.

MsExPat also suggested that Snowden could reboot from Hong Kong (and one would therefore think transit through it):

Snowden could go back to HK:

Mr. Snowden could return to Hong Kong, Ms. Ho of Daly & Associates said, attempting to apply for asylum after he arrived from the Hong Kong government or the UNHCR. The Hong Kong government has asked airlines to bar him from flying there, but he could get around that restriction because Russia would be “returning” him to Hong Kong, which would be different than “allowing” him to fly to Hong Kong like a normal passenger, she said.

He might hitch his commercial flight from there…and there are some routes that even passenger planes take that might work (HK-Johannesburg-Sao Paulo-Panama City-Caracas).

But the point here is not to try to solve Snowden”s problem, simply to suggest there may be ways to delicately tiptoe though his current boundary conditions.

What he has instead tried to do, however, is relax a big constraint, that of not formally entering Russia. But here’s where I start to have big doubts.

By having a press conference, Snowden gone about seeking aid in the most public manner possible. He’s basically thrown himself on the kindness of strangers, and we know how well that worked out for Blanche DuBois.

Russia has taken the official posture of being not happy that Snowden is stuck in the transit zone (whether it is really not happy is an open question). If Snowden could have found an intermediary (I would have gone back to Hong Kong contacts and tried daisy-chaining through the UN mafia; there would be decent odds of people in those circles being seen as being fair brokers), they could have tried to work something out quietly and maintained as much deniability for the Russians as possible. It would be important to take the position that Snowden was prepared to remain in the transit zone indefinitely; i.e., his departure entails risk to Snowden (true) and is thus doing Russia a favor (true), therefore they should want to help (at least up to a point). But the best way to explore options for both sides would have been quietly (and remember, even then there may be no mutually satisfactory solution).

Now it’s possible Snowden tried that and was rebuffed, but I rather doubt it (he’s not been there all that long, and his negotiating position would be considerably weakened by seeming keen to get out. He’d need to act like this is better than being in a US prison, so he’s prepared to hang out until he’s sure he can get out safely).

Instead, Snowden rounded up a bunch of people, most of whom are not on good terms with the government and asked for asylum (when all he might need is something that sounds like a less big ask, like safe conduct to the Venezuelan embassy, so he’s at least not rattling around the airport and technically not Putin’s problem). I find it hard to think of a clumsier way to have gone about this. From the Financial Times:

Edward Snowden, the fugitive US whistleblower, told Russian human rights activists, lawyers and politicians assembled at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on Friday that he would seek asylum in Russia… In addition to human rights figures, there was one parliamentary deputy from President Vladimir Putin’s ruling United Russia party in attendance…..

Most of the human rights groups invited to attend have been subject to searches and raids by law enforcement agencies in recent months, and told to comply with a new law requiring them to register as “foreign agents” or face punishment.

Snowden apparently e-mailed them all the night before, and it appears there were no official intermediaries or introducers; many recipients though the message was a spoof. Even though some Russian parliamentarians made supportive noises, the FT noted:

Mr Snowden’s request will put Mr Putin in a difficult position, in which he cannot appear to be caving into US pressure, but is anxious not to allow relations with the US to slide further towards confrontation.

Snowden may also not understand Putin’s conditions. Putin was clear that if Snowden were to come to Russia, he’d need to stop “damaging the United States”. That at a minimum means no more leaks. But if my earlier assumption is correct, Snowden may not be able to guarantee that, at least for very long. And the US clearly has a different view of what “damaging” is than Snowden does. The US thinks that anything embarrassing to the government is damaging. Snowden criticized the US not only for denying his right to seek asylum under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also for forcing the diversion of Evo Morales’ plane. Um, when you are a supplicant and you are already too controversial, best to keep the noise level down.

It isn’t clear whether Putin’s notion of what “damaging the US” constitutes is closer to the Snowden or the US position. The Russian deputy who participated in the meeting, Vyachelsav Nikonov, took a very Snowden-like view of the matter, but that does not mean this interpretation will prevail:

Any harm he did to the US was all in the past. What journalists are blowing up now is not his fault. Second, [Snowden said] that he has no intention of hurting the US as he is a loyal citizen.

In other words, it looks like Snowden is proceeding with no or minimal advice. He’s already cornered, but not having good guidance will make it even harder to find a path out than it would be otherwise. It would be better if I were wrong, and we probably won’t find out what transpired any time soon, if ever. I hope the “temporary asylum” gambit works, but doing it in such a high-visibility manner is unlikely to improve Snowden’s odds of success.

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  1. James F Traynor

    Well, I guess that just about says it. But I wouldn’t chance landing in Panama, however briefly. Going back to HK – now that’s interesting. I wonder if we’d be crazy enough to force him down, especially on a commercial flight, with a pair of F16s? Wouldn’t that be fun.

    1. okie farmer

      Yves is right – Putin now holds all the cards – Snowden has poor options. It’s apparent to me that China/HK didn’t want much to do with Snowden. US has an extradition treaty with HK. HK’s excuses for not turning him over to US were flimsy (misspelled name, etc) – no way China didn’t intervene with HK’s decision making. Russia could NOT have been unaware Snowden would be on that plane to Moscow. Easy deal. Putin knew exactly the cards he was being dealt. The HK lawyer is a false flag, part of an attempt to get Snowden back to HK. Snowden’s legal ‘team’ knew they didn’t have much time, vis-à-vis, US/HK extradition treaty which HK could not stall for long. Snowden going to Russia was their least bad option.

  2. JaaaaayCeeeee

    It is hard to see how Snowden’s press conference does him any good. Charlie Pierce pointed out the White House’s complaints that Russia should gag Snowden’s martyrdom campaign, and stop undercutting Russian-USA relations (breaking-a-butterfly-on-a-wheel tactics) mean someone should tell both Snowden and the administration to shut up now.

    The only thing certain is the bitter irony that the NSA conduct and policy continue to evade being the issue they should be.

  3. ohmyheck

    Russia offers and Snowden accepts asylum:

    “…once he has a Russian travel document, which the US would not have the ID number for, it would be fairly easy for him to hop a Russian commercial flight with official Russian permission and assistance, and to fly via Cuba to Venezuela, Bolivia or Nicaragua. The US ability to constantly monitor all flights visually and to spot a disguised Snowden are actually quite limited.”

    1. Patricia

      From what I read on Greenwald’s comment thread, this is correct. He intends to accept Putin’s order to not further embarrass the US with further info (pure optics/politics) since everyone know the info is out of his hands, in return for asylum so that he can use commercial flights to get to wherever he decides to accept permanent asylum, likely in S America.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        As much as I hope the commercial flight option will work, what the US did through proxies with Morales’ plane does not bode well. I’m relying on the web, so people who are experts please pipe up, but my understanding is government aircraft have to get permission to fly through a country but commercial planes don’t. However, Morales’ plane was ALSO boarded and searched, and it isn’t clear whether that inspection was voluntary (my guess is that it was formally agreed to because it was made clear it would be inspected even if not agreed to).

        So the fact that the US’s stooges were willing to force the issue of the diplomatic immunity afforded a presidential plane says they’d find a pretext for forcing the landing of a commercial plane if they thought Snowden was aboard (“it deviated too far from its flight plan and according to us wasn’t responding to messages”). Now he might somehow be able to get out secretly, but my guess is it’s a fraught proposition.

    2. Jackrabbit

      When you click-thru to the RT report it says (at the end):

      “Moscow could decide to grant political asylum to Snowden within two to three weeks, lawyer and Public Chamber member Anatoly Kucherena said.”

      So the Counterpunch article may be misleading in that it is anticipatory. Snowden has not yet secured Russian asylum.

  4. Jon A.

    Is Iceland out of the question? I’ve read that the Icelandic parliament decided not to hold a vote allowing citizenship, but I think asylum would still be possible if he could get to the country.

    There was that story about the billionaire businessman Olafur Vignir Sigurvinsson saying he’d have a plane waiting for Snowden in HK, and in theory he could just as easily have one in Moscow.

    1. sd

      Iceland recently elected a right wing government. The right wing cotion that holds a solid majority in parliament. Not gonna happen under this government.

      And please. Stop holding up Iceland as a healthy democracy. It is not. The new government is trying to cut all manner of funding like elder and child care, the arts, education, environment, while simultaneously giving Alcoa a tax break.

  5. b

    Why shouldn’t he stay in Russia and get a comfortable life there? Sure, he may have to spill the beans on the NSA. But out of caution the NSA will alread assume that he did so.

    Russia is a nice big country with friendly people. Plus it is the only country that really can protect him.

    As for Putin – the guy is having all the fun with this. He really likes to see Obama squirm and be laughed at for the absurd U.S. behavior in this case.

    1. Antifa

      Good point. Putin’s manhood is intact over the longer term. He’s been the de facto President of Russia for many years, in or out of office, and will continue to be for years after Obama is riding the lecture circuit, teaching Constitutional law to naive Ivy Leaguers, and playing the role of elder statesman.

      Putin can laugh up his sleeve over this whole thing a lot longer than whichever corporate stooge is inserted into the Oval Office every four years.

  6. John Wright

    I find it remarkable Snowden has done as well has he has.

    Snowden didn’t have anyone to safely confide in prior to his decision to provoke the US Government and US security industry.

    He has been very much alone in this attempt to embarass the US government.

    Daniel Ellsberg was able to discuss his actions with his wife and Anthony Russo.

    Even Ellsberg’s kids were involved in copying the Pentagon Papers.

    Ellsberg was also about 10 years older (40) than Snowden when Ellsberg released the Pentagon papers and he had considerable Rand Corporation and US military experience.

    I believe Snowden’s efforts to tell the world about US government surveillance will be viewed favorably in the future.

    Maybe Ronald Reagan’s oft quoted suggestion that “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem” truly does apply in Snowden’s situation?

    1. sgt_doom

      I am in full agreement with your most intelligent comments, Mr. Wright!

      Indeed, Mr. Snowden happens to be an IT specialist, while the pathetic noosies (newsies????) routinely refer to him as a spy!

      Whistleblowers, whether actual spies such as John Kiriakou (now wasting his life in an American jail), or other IT specialists (such as former NSA whistleblower, Thomas Drake, who attempted to go through the proper channels), or even Dr. Cate Jenkins of the EPA, all are strategically and almost mortally slammed by neocons George W. Bush and Barack Obama!

  7. Susan the other

    This fiasco has served to demonstrate that there is no place to hide anymore. It doesn’t harm the NSA, it reinforces it. And there are shades of Kim Philby in this picture. The famous British “spy” who was so patriotic he sacrificed his citizenship, seemingly to make it look like those naughty Russians were the bad guys. So Putin is preempting this version of events and nobody can figure out what to do next? Putin is playing a very clever game.

    1. LucyLulu

      I agree. While Putin may not want to jeopardize relations with U.S., he also enjoys having all the power in what is evidently a very high stakes game for the U.S. Putin would love to see Russia resume an approximation of it’s previous superpower status with him at the helm, and he knows how important optics can be. He won’t jeopardize his image by allowing anything to happen to Snowden. Snowden’s biggest risk is embarrassing or pissing off Putin and having him turn Snowden over to the US as a very large owed favor before Snowden can arrange a permanent home. My (wishful thinking?) interpretation of the articles was that Nikonov and Russian authorities were very much included in setting up the meeting.

      From what I’ve read in comments, the biggest obstacle to asylum is the flight to S. America, the need to fly over U.S. friendly nations and refuel. Would S. Africa allow Snowden to land there and risk US ire? I would think he would need to fly on either Russian or Chinese commercial flights (apparently only two private jets would fit the bill, and neither owner would be so inclined, per comment in Guardian) as the only two nations he could feel safe Obama wouldn’t dare to risk incidents with. We don’t know what China/HK said to Snowden but US and China are in talks. Obama is extremely invested in Snowden’s return while China would hardly allow his welfare (ditto Putin) to jeopardize their position, anymore than the rest of the world’s nations. I pray Snowden has a guardian angel watching over him. I agree with b that Russia is the only country that could provide him with some assurance of safe asylum.

  8. NattyB

    Re: Further Leaking

    Greenwald’s made clear that Snowden is done leaking and that the news orgs have everything and Snowden couldn’t stop the forthcoming stories from publication, even if he tried.

      1. Monte Letourneau

        that is to say, 4 those too hurried to click link:

        Greenwald & Snowden have both made clear that the Guardian has not released all they have yet, and are still evaluating consequences of what’s been withheld.

        Also, Snowden set up more than one dead man’s switch to release the rest if he is killed.

        So, he’s mos def done, for now; but either source may release more at appopo times.

        So, actually almost half right is a more accurate response to this comment.

  9. Jackrabbit

    From what I have read, it seemed that it was likely that he would eventually have been returned to the US if he remained in HK (though it might takes years before that happened).

    Can Snowden ever really be safe if he doesn’t eventually live an anonymous and well-hidden life? Russia seems like a good choice for that, though it presents a public relations problem as the US can say that he is a traitor (so it may not be an option until Snowden has accomplished his info-release goals).

    Although Putin seems to be somewhat sympathetic (not unhappy with US embarrassment), he doesn’t want to jeopardize US-Russian relations (too much). To legitimately claim that Snowden is not in Russia requires that Snowden have a destination to ‘transit’ to.

    Snowden may need to be/intend to be in the transit area or in an embassy (probably in Russia) for quite some time (at least until he has accomplished his info-release goals).

    The hastily arranged press conference might show some disorganization/desperation but I thought it also accomplished some goals:
    a) showing that he has not fallen into the hands of the Russian security services;

    b) publicly accepting asylum offers (now he has a destination) – just a few hours before Putin was scheduled to talk with Obama!; and
    c) getting more press (of course).

    Why not safe-passage? I don’t know. Maybe because it is more discretionary (risks US-Russia relations) and/or less legally reliable (risk to Snowden) than asylum?

    1. Monte Letourneau

      Good points, a, b & c.

      While I may have started in Managua, Caracas, or the Bolivian mountains… I don’t know what he knows, and he doesn’t know what I know.

      From here on out I think he should stay on point; nothing else he releases could possibly have the import of knowing that private contractors’ with little oversight and private clients, and their employees, have physical access to all (y)our (& corporate) metadata.

      Idividual concerns about individual conspiracies and blackmail pale in comparisson to the chilling, anti-democratic and anti-breathing-things effects of this one fact.

      Take just one for instance: Despite thousands of homes with ignitable poisonous ground water, how come you don’t know fracking is leaking many multiples more global warming as methane than it could ever save in CO2?

      1. Monte Letourneau

        And I for one was quite glad to “know” he was OK and really still there (though I had hoped he was already en route).

        This real-ization of his physical beingness was cause enough for me. Pretty much making it a PR boon.

  10. FiveGreenLeafs

    Beware of hindsight bias and after the fact rationalization.

    Especially in a case where so many participants, has so strong incentives to keep their actions and machinations hidden from view.

    Maybe in 20 years time, enought information will have “leaked” out into the public domain in the form of memoirs, articles and research projects, not least Snowdens own intentions at each point of decision, that will make it possible to analyze and evaluate the sequence of events now playing out before us.

  11. Barbara Brown

    I do not know what he did wrong. Politicians sporadically have been saying this for 40 years, from Muskie to Kemp. Kemp detested what the spied on said and did. I hate my mind being messed with like this.

  12. ltr

    I stringly suggest paying attention to the substantive reports on the policies of the NSA that are coming from Glenn Greenwald and other Guardian reporters. The focus on and criticism of the decisions of Edward Snowden are not important.

    The issue is the nature of American democracy.

    1. Monte Letourneau

      I also think we need to stay on point; nothing else he releases could possibly have the import of knowing that private contractors’ with little oversight and private clients, and their employees, have physical access to all (y)our (& corporate) metadata.

      Still, all the drama is the best reality show ever. It cannot help but spread the word and underscore the point.

      The scariest thing is how easy it is to misdirect ourselves from the point, the drama can not change that.

  13. Gerard Pierce

    I think you give Snowden too little credit. His planning may not have been perfect, but he has done a great job of improvising under completely unpredictable circumstances.

    Staying in Russia and allowing the situation to remain ambiguous has kept the overall issue alive. Anything else would have turned the whole fiasco into yesterdays news.

    The United States has stepped on a critical part of its own anatomy several times and doesn’t seem to have learned from the experience.

    A number of countries lack the courage to tell the US to take a flying leap, but until Snowden actually arrives at one of the countries that have offered asylum, the issue remains active news.

    The longer the issue remains active, the more opportunity there is for the US to make another stupid choice. Little by little the propaganda has failed. We still love the underdog, and more and more people are moviong to Snowden’s side.

    At some point, Snowden might offer to return to the US with the issue of bail and admissible evidence negotiated in advance. This would leave the US government wondering whether they could find 12 people who would find him guilty.

  14. ltr

    Sorry Yves, I find this a sadly disappointing essay. Chaning the focus from what is important and speculating needlessly and to me unconvincingly. Oh well.

    1. MsExPat

      Disagree. The continuing political intrigue and diplomatic fallout from the Snowden saga is as important a story as the content of his laptops–I’d argue even more so. I mean, who, really, was surprised to learn–doh!–that the NSA has been sucking up our private information for a decade or more? However I was astonished by what happened to Evo Morales’ Air Force One last week. Thanks to Snowden, we have learned quite a bit about the magnitude of the Obama administration’s foreign policy arrogance, not to mention the ham-handedness and presumptiveness of the US DOJ (so cock-sure of themselves they can’t bother to correctly fill out the extradition forms for Ireland and Hong Kong!).

      Most fascinating for me is how Snowden’s playing (and not badly, all things considered!) on the shifting contemporary chessboard of global politics and power. On one level, he’s an “enemy” of the (sputtering) Nation-State, but he’s also a citizen of the post-national corporate world (Booz Allen, ex-pat life, global whistleblowing), and his allies and potential allies include countries but also post-national institutions–Wikileaks, the UN and the international human rights community. Not to mention that the location he most comforably lives and works in isn’t a nation-state or a globalized corporate sphere, but the Internet. (If the Digital World issued passports and granted asylum, Snowden would be set.)

      Corporations exploit the angles of this landscape for profit, and jack the rules so nobody else can get in the game. Snowden’s marvelous subversion is that he’s showing an individual, a lone wolf, can play too, maneuvering in the spaces between (beyond?) borders. His options right now, as Yves points out, aren’t great. But like Bonnie and Clyde in the Depression, he’s still on the lam and the Feds can’t get him! It’s a small thing, yet it makes me want to cheer.

      1. LucyLulu

        I think you underestimate the impact of Snowden’s NSA revelations. I don’t think everyone was aware of the extent of the surveillance state. In fact, I think most were not. In addition, I think it has brought a global level of awareness to the issue. While friendly governments may be complicit and/or unwilling to take action, based on the comments I’ve read, the citizens of those countries are outraged (more so than Americans). You have the Kremlin reverting to typewriters since the NSA leaks, thus some of the news was unknown to them. Stories about Russell Tice, former NSA whistleblower (link posted by Bev previously, on BoilingFrogsPost.com) and Barrett Brown, journalist currently jailed for posting link to private security contractor leak (link to story below) are getting renewed coverage after being largely ignored in the past. I think there will be growing backlash from large American IT companies as losses of their international clients to foreign firms over privacy concerns mount. It remains yet to be seen how much increased transparency, oversight, and reining in the revelations will bring. The level of complicity, acceptance of “war on terror” propaganda by the American people, and rubber-stamping by secret courts, DiFi, Rogers, and friends in DC is disheartening. However, the Administration/intelligence community at minimum will slow the pace of their ever-growing expansion of its surveillance network, knowing there will be some who will be watching them, credibility of sources will not be dismissed as in the past, and foreign media will print the stories if US media are unwilling (also issue for whistleblowers like Tice who have no physical evidence).


        1. psychohistorian

          I think one of the results that is appearing is a clarification of which countries are part of the American empire and which are not.

          I like how the Latin American countries are recalling their ambassadors to those fellating EU countries for consultation…..

          Snowden efforts will also speed up the end of America as the Reserve Currency, IMO……and that tectonic shift in world finance will be where the future will be set.

      2. PghMike

        I have to admit that I didn’t really think the surveillance state was so advanced.

        I mean, I understood that the NSA certainly swept up any traffic going internationally.

        And I remember saying to someone before Snowden’s revelations that I assumed that somewhere in the White House is a finding that says that until they listen to a recording, they don’t need a warrant to collect it.

        But I still sorta assumed that there were *some* filters in place, rather than wholesale collection of every piece of meta data, whether phone, email, Skype calls, Outlook servers, google searches, or what have you, and then keeping it forever. And I’m surprised by the level of collaboration: that virtually every company in the tech world was engineering back-doors to provide access to the NSA and FBI.

        1. Hugo Stiglitz

          It is also important to point out that much of what makes up the vast multi-agency surveillance program(s) were in place, or planned, well before 9-11. This seems to get little attention anywhere, and of course is never mentioned on the propaganda networks. Also the revelations of Tice, though undocumented, are extraordinary, implying that legislators, judges, FBI, etc. might be getting effectively blackmailed (or doing the blackmail). Notice the NSA budget was unaffected by the sequester. Suspicious to say the least IMHO.

          Plus, I think it is foolish for Snowden to mention the consequences of his demise. Surely the NSA et al already know this. But it might trigger an idea in parties that want that embarrassing – potentially devastating even – information to be exposed. He has a target on him already, why bring attention to it?

    2. ohmyheck

      I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time.
      You are assuming that because Yves wrote this essay, she isn’t also considering what the impact of the information in the released documents might be. Why do you assume that? There is nothing wrong with focusing on one aspect at a time.

  15. Boozy Rocket

    We need more Snowdens. Hundreds of contractors from Mt Weather to the NSA to underground locations near you, reveal the truth in a whirlwind of mass hysteria. Arm the homeless!

  16. EH

    And so eventually even the most hardened critics get turned to the trivialities of the issues, to the gossip.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      With all due respect, you’ve lost the plot completely if you think his conduct and actions now are “gossip”. His latest moves have serious implications for supporters in the officialdom in the US. There is no point in Snowden doing what he’s done if nothing changes. It might be a nice feel good moment and embarrasses the bad guys, but what good is that if he hasn’t produced changes as far as the operation of the security state is concerned? That is why his conduct now DOES matter, it will affect who in positions of authority here can support him.

      And don’t kid yourself about the power of public outrage. The public was overwhelmingly against the TARP and that was voted through. It will take action to rein in the security state. All Obama and the surveillance state have to do to win is fight opponents to a standstill. And as much as the media noise level has been high, I’m not seeing corresponding official action, like an independent investigation.

      See our comment further down:


      1. MRW

        The Snowden issue moved a seven-year stall in the EFF case against the NSA this past week. The EFF is taking on the NSA, re: AT&T whistleblower Klein’s revelations.

        Judge White said the DOJ couldn’t invoke a state secrets privilege to dismiss the case, and that the operative law would now be the FISA law of 1970 (doing this from memory). Therefore, the Judge had the right to see these documents that the state was declaring were too incendiary to see the light of day because of security issues.

        Now, the NSA is going to have to produce evidence that its dragnet surveillance is warranted, and that the FISA Court was correct in rubber-stamping them.

  17. polistra

    He doesn’t need to cross US-slave nations. Railroad eastward to Vladivostok, airplane across the Pacific to Nicaragua, and from there to Venezuela by plane or boat.

    And I’m also amazed by the straight-talking HK lawyer. I’ll try to find a lawyer with a Chinese name if I ever need one! Plain old American lawyers never talk straight.

  18. Andrew Watts

    On a somewhat related note:

    Over the fourth of July weekend I spent some time investigating the claims of the potential damage Snowden could potentially do to American national security. This was done mostly to satisfy my own curiosity if this was just an instance of the government blowing hot air because they’re embarrassed about Snowden’s revelations. I started my investigation in 1945 and moved onward from there. I was looking for an individual case where the NSA was compromised at a particularly sensitive flashpoint during the Cold War. It didn’t take long to discover the case of Bill (William) Weisband. The now declassified NSA Cryptologic Quarterly has something to say on the matter:

    “Washington lacked vital intelligence regarding Soviet intentions; the SIGINT system in particular offered few insights into high-level Soviet military and political planning, thanks to the treachery of AFSA employee William Weisband, which compromised numerous high-level cryptologic successes against Moscow. Nevertheless, in August CIA assessments concluded that while Yugoslavia’s quarter-million strong army might stand a chance against the satellite armies of Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, the presence of six Soviet divisions in those satellites tipped the balance; against a combined Soviet bloc invasion, Tito’s forces would be soon overwhelmed. Hence the CIA concluded that Yugoslav resistance was dependent on the degree and promptness of Western assistance.”

    If Stalin had pushed for a military invasion of Yugoslavia military assistance could’ve easily morphed into overt intervention. Which the article later goes on to admit would’ve started an atomic war. Nobody knows for sure how much damage Weisband inflicted on the national security of the United States. Though single-handedly assisting in fomenting World War III by blinding American intelligence (haha!) about Stalin’s intentions ranks somewhere between “Heckuva a lot” to “Holy shit!” on my personal scale. With those historical facts in hand and the knowledge PRISM was only a small part of the documentation that Snowden absconded with, I’m hard pressed to say that those claims are unfounded.

    The bottom line remains this, none of this is going to end well for Snowden or American intelligence. (haha!) For all of Putin’s public posturing about not harming their American friends, that bastard probably wants Snowden’s information for the sole use of Russia. Since Snowden does not have a passport to leave Russia voluntarily, the only way he will be able to leave Russia is with Putin’s permission. The State Department really screwed the pooch with that action. That is the reason I just had to put a “haha!” after every instance of American intelligence. Though whether this would’ve stopped the FSB from just kidnapping Snowden is another issue entirely. By revoking his passport the government just made it easier for Putin to keep his hands on Snowden without resorting to any unpleasantness.

    It isn’t hard to guess the reasons why the American government wants Snowden back. The foremost reason being that they’re trying to figure out how much classified information is out in the open and how much damage was done. What is surprising is the extent the Obama Administration has pursued Snowden. It’s not a small issue messing around with diplomatic immunity of a foreign head of state. Based upon what? A rumor? Or perhaps a calculated leak by the Russians intent on pressuring Snowden to see things their way…..

    Anyway, that’s where I’ll stop. I’ll probably get trolled for being something other then entirely sympathetic to Snowden and his cause.


    Declassified NSA Cryptologic Quarterly on the Stalin-Tito split.


    Venona: Soviet Espionage and The American Response 1939-1957


    Don’t have the time or inclination to post all the books I drew information from.

    1. Ben Johannson

      The American power elite do not believe any meaningful constraints exist on their capacity to act. They believe that while the world may complain it will comply and move on as it has for the last twenty years, that their power is eternal (if you people haven’t noticed a pronounced pattern of self-deification from this crowd, time to wake up). How can anyone be surprised by what was done to Morales?

      1. Andrew Watts

        Ever since the story about Snowden broke it has constantly been publicly hinted that he has damaging information that will be released if anything happens to him or his family. So either he’s bluffing or he really does has some damning information that the American government believes is priceless.

        There is something vaguely desperate about how the Morales incident was handled. Which is why I don’t think arrogance of our power elite can explain that incident by itself.

        1. NattyB

          Which is why I don’t think arrogance of our power elite can explain that incident by itself.

          I put it on incompetency given that Evo left from a totally different airport. What’s the purpose of all this intelligence if they cannot be trusted to manage the basics?

            1. Kurt Sperry

              Surely that Morales plane fiasco was marinated and deep fried in stupid. I can think of no scenario regarding it that I could put a charitable spin on towards US intelligence. Even if desperation was amplifying the stupid, it in the end was still down to remarkable incompetence–either the US got chumped by a misdirection or they had no clue what was actually going on.

              At first I thought it just might be an exercise in raw obedience testing, who would flagrantly and egregiously break the law in daylight in response to being ordered to, who was willing to openly be our puppets. But I think real political capital was spent and lost there, I can’t see a net upside any way you view it. The next request to openly break the law in front of the world for the US will be politically harder for countries to accede to and maintain any pretext of sovereignty.

          1. Andrew Watts

            I’m not sure incompetence or stupidity is appropriate either. They wouldn’t know if Snowden was smuggled out by Russian intelligence. They don’t know if Snowden is willing or able to trade the classified information he possesses for asylum in Russia or abroad. For all they know the FSB has him all nice and comfortable stashed in a safe house somewhere.

        2. LucyLulu

          Yes. I don’t think it’s what Snowden has released that has NSA worried as much as what they are afraid he might yet release.

          US government position: Bolivia is a third world country, headed by a member of the peasant class. Peasants are subject to having their planes forced to land and be searched. Let Latin America complain all they want. What else can they do? It’s not like it was Cameron’s or Putin’s plane. They’ll get over it. Morales and US taxpayers (aka 99%) are on par with each other…… can be taken out with drones, at the pleasure of our ruler.

        3. Lambert Strether

          Except the American government constantly confuses the well-being of its individual members with the well-being of the the country. Personally, I thought that Snowden didn’t mention that he could listen in on the President in real time casually. Would the tapes of Obama ordering up the Democratic equivalent of Jeff Guckert “damage” the United States? I don’t think so. Obama might feel differently.

        4. Jeff W

          So either he’s bluffing or he really does has [sic] some damning information that the American government believes is priceless.

          Well, Edward Snowden himself, in his first interview, in answer to a question about what he “didn’t end up doing,” said,

          Anyone in the positions of access with the technical capabilities that I had could suck out secrets, pass them on the open market to Russia; they always have an open door as we do. I had access to the full rosters of everyone working at the NSA, the entire intelligence community, and undercover assets all over the world. The locations of every station, we have what their missions are and so forth.

          So Snowden seems to indicate (by implicature) that he did not “suck out secrets,” i.e., the full rosters, station locations (or, at least, did not suck them out and pass them on the open market)—but, if his statement about his access is true, it gives an idea of the extent of the information someone in Snowden’s position might have. (And, of course, I don’t know if the US government knows what information he in fact took with him or if it is acting merely on supposition, although I might tend to think the latter.)

          1. Andrew Watts

            I don’t know. If I was in Snowden’s position I would view this kind of information as a life insurance policy. It would also be easily verified by the various intelligence agencies if he had access to that mother lode of intelligence.

            1. Jeff W

              Yes and yes.

              Nothing in Snowden’s statements negates either of those—he’s just saying (and the government could easily verify) what he had access to and what he could have done with it. He’s not saying that he doesn’t now have it (or hasn’t stashed it securely with someone else) or that he wouldn’t use it as some sort of “life insurance.”

              In fact my take on his statements was that he made that second, more specific point about the extent of his access—“the full rosters…the locations of every station”— precisely to leave that inference open for the listener (i.e., here, primarily, the US government)—“I could have but didn’t (do whatever with that information)…but [the listener fills in] I still can.”

              And, if I were in his shoes, I’d want to be holding the highest cards I could, even if I didn’t play them.

      2. Synopticist

        The Morales incident was a bigger shock to me than the NSA revelations. I’m not sure there’s anything else major to come out, it’s just full spectrum domination on display.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Thanks a lot for this.

      I had actually wanted to write a post on this for some time (the WTF were we thinking to force Snowden into Putin’s arms) but didn’t have the backup.

      From my perspective, it is nuts for us not to let Snowden go to someplace in South America. Yes, the DoD boys look unmanly for a few months, but they could render him from there. None of those countries are densely enough populated to make rendition difficult nor are they important allies (China IS an ally even though our relationship with them is fractious. Rendering him from HK would have elicited major retaliation from the Chinese. It’s over my pay grade to even guess, but it would have seriously destabilized our relationship with them. And remember, China controls a lot of strategic materials, starting with rare earths and believe it or not, ascorbic acid).

      But he is gonna have to give some really currency to Putin, which is info. And I can’t for the life of me fathom what the hell the NSA boys were thinking.

      Snowden has taken the position that he does have valuable information and is leaking only a small portion, the “not valuable to our enemies” part.

      Now the NSA may be telling the Administration that Snowden has got squat that is sensitive. But…

      1. Do you think they’d tell Obama otherwise if Snowden had real damaging dirt? I can’t imagine they would

      2. Independent of 1, the NSA will also tend to underestimate the importance of what Snowden has. They don’t know what Russia knows for sure. Even if Russia SUSPECTS that a lot of what Snowden has is true, having it confirmed is a different matter, particularly with internal evidence

      3. Snowden also has lots of information about NSA procedures and routines. The NSA has no idea what “soft” information he has and may not be factoring that into their calculations. I have to tell you, having done a lot of competitor research, this sort of info is VERY valuable.

      I spoke to a buddy who has some dealings with DoD types and asked what the hell is going on here. I could only fathom two reasons for this course of action.

      One is that all Obama cares about is PR, and he’s willing to score a PR victory (getting his hands on Snowden or making him hopelessly tainted by forcing him into Putin’s arms) and didn’t care at what cost.

      The second is the Defense establishment has gone into reptile brain mode, they are so angry about Snowden and frustrated at their inability to squash him like a bug despite all their supposed power that they are just acting without much thought as to the consequences, the bureaucratic analogue to the angry man who goes out to kill the lover that has cheated on him.

      My buddy thinks the latter, that the Defense establishment is so angry it isn’t seeing or thinking straight.

      1. Andrew Watts

        None of the details revealed so far about his flight to Russia passes the smell test. Initially it looked like he had a decent plan to stay in Hong Kong and fight for asylum. It seems to have had a good probability of being successful. At the very least he had some time to consider his options. Shortly after his passport is revoked he inexplicably flees and to Russia of all places?

        1) I don’t think anybody in the intelligence community is trying to bullshit the White House about how serious this situation is any more. This has escalated way too quickly for that. I’m merely speculating, but the Bolivian president’s plane being diverted due to it’s lack of clearance could only be brought about through serious diplomatic channels. It was also way too coordinated among the various NATO countries.

        2) Based upon his position in the system their intelligence services would undoubtedly have an idea about what kind of information Snowden would have access to. Given his computer skills they would probably like to know what else he could have possibly taken with him.

        3) Correct, and that’s potentially just for starters. Regardless of what Snowden intended or what he says in public statements you gotta believe that the national security apparatus is going to assume nothing less then the absolute worst of what they can think up regarding his potentially damaging revelations.

        That being said, I think Snowden is already being worked over by the Russians. It’s very likely he is starting to give them intelligence. Before anybody jumps all over me for that speculative thought, consider that this is no longer about doing the right thing. This is purely about survival. Just about anything can be justified when it comes to that. He doesn’t have a lot of realistic alternatives.

        The reason why I think he’s already handing over intelligence beside my historical knowledge and respect for Russian intelligence, is his repeated public insistence that he isn’t a traitor or anything but a loyal American citizen. Everybody ’round the world has had more then enough time to make up their mind about his public disclosure. These public proclamations are entirely unnecessary. The fact that he seems to think they still are indicates to me that he has a guilty conscious.

        The Russians probably won’t press him too hard at first. So he still has a small chance at escaping his predicament without doing too much damage. I still don’t like his odds.

        1. Lambert Strether

          Of course, there’s always the possibility that if Snowden is being worked over by the Russians, he’s feeding them chickenfeed (and how deep the recursion would be there, I don’t know).

          And if he is, why on earth give him a public forum? Isn’t just screaming for steganography from Snowden to, say, Greenwald?

          And I dunno about “repeated public insistence.” How “repeated” is this, really? It’s not like he’s going on the TV with the shouting heads every day and hammering his talking points, eh?

          Good points all, though. I just think we’re in an unprecedented situation.

          1. Andrew Watts

            “And I dunno about “repeated public insistence.” How “repeated” is this, really? It’s not like he’s going on the TV with the shouting heads every day and hammering his talking points, eh?”

            I could be wrong, but every time he issues a statement it’s always in there somewhere.

            “And if he is, why on earth give him a public forum? Isn’t just screaming for steganography from Snowden to, say, Greenwald?”

            I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t give him a public forum occasionally upon his request. There really isn’t any harm in allowing those things to happen. What could Greenwald possibly do now that Snowden is theoretically in Russian custody? There’s also this conversation I imagine happening in some hotel room…..

            “You see Edward, we are being very accommodating to your demands. Is there anything else you’d like to request? May I call you Edward?”


            “I just think we’re in an unprecedented situation.”

            No doubt. Even more so that it’s being played before the eyes of the public.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          I’m not sure the extreme reaction (the Morales incident) is based on the information Snowden might release. Snowden has made clear the information will be released irrespective of what happens to him. That could mean 1. He’s already given it to the Guardian and/or 2. He’s set up for it to be automagically released unless he checks into a certain site every so often.

          And I think you underestimate the ability of bureaucrats to lie to themselves and thus to third parties. The idea that a 29 year old sys admin could do real damage to the defense apparatus has got to be something emotionally hard to admit to (by contrast, Ellsberg was arguably the top expert in the US on Vietnam and also a leader in the field of decision science). I think their view will be “everyone knows most of this already, what he has isn’t that valuable.” But I have to tell you, having done lots of competitor interviews (where I’d talk people into meeting me KNOWING my client was a competitor), I’d proceed on the basis of volunteering factoids (accurate ones) that minimized my client’s position in the market (as in they were under 25 in the Eurobond league tables. That made them sound harmless. But if I had told them my under 25 client was Citibank, no way would they have talked to me). I could never fathom why people (these were always senior people, typically business unit heads) would agree to see me (people at Salomon and Nomura always said no, everywhere else I was never turned down).

          The way I’d get them to agree was “Look, I’m not asking for anything confidential, I anticipate what I’m asking is widely known in the marketplace. If I ask anything you regard as sensitive, obviously you don’t have to answer and we may have a 2 minute conversation.”

          I have to tell you, each and every time, the people I met divulged a LOT about their operation (simply because it was the one they knew best, everything was framed through what they knew, unless they had just come from another bank, then I might hear a lot about the old place but that was fine too) and a ton of what they considered to be just common market knowledge was NOT known by my clients or at best suspected by my client along with competing points of view.

          That is a long winded way of saying I think the NSA folks might be more capable of rationalizing (by assuming that the Russians know things with more certainty than they actually do) than you think. In my literally hundreds of competitor interviews, I have NEVER encountered a single case where the person I spoke to didn’t considerably overestimate what his competitors knew.

          Remember Obama is extremely PR driven. He’s been way more secretive than any past president (measured by level of document classification) AND vastly more punitive with leakers. If it were not for his famous cool and his photogenic family he’d be recognized as Nixon-level paranoid and punitive.

          And the DoD which is used to arranging sanitized drone killing and doing renditions and has a surveillance apparatus beyond the wildest dreams of past dictators, must be hugely frustrated that they can’t flatten or stop Snowden. I read a big element of powerful people acting close to irrationally because all their usual moves aren’t working or can’t be executed.

          1. Andrew Watts

            It’s unlikely the Guardian has all the classified information that Snowden possesses. I don’t have much faith in their public statements. At this point I’m assuming that they are trying to run interference for Snowden.

            Regardless the kind of intel that Snowden alludes to being able to access is not the sort of thing fit for public consumption. They’ve only printed newsworthy stories about individual programs. There’s only one kind of market for that other sort of classified material and Putin has that market cornered.

            “That is a long winded way of saying I think the NSA folks might be more capable of rationalizing (by assuming that the Russians know things with more certainty than they actually do) than you think.”

            You could very well be right about all that. There is one important detail you’re missing. The DoD and NSA are not the only players potentially involved with the Snowden affair. After 9/11 there was public talk about efforts to consolidate and share American intelligence resources between various agencies under the aegis of Homeland Security and the National Security Council. Reportedly this was quite unpopular among the rank and file, but it was being shoved down their throats by the pols and ‘crats. All these actions were allegedly taken in the name of efficiency and accountability. (How’s that for irony?)

            I don’t think that the federal government has the expertise or resources to manage that feat without outsourcing their efforts to Silicon Valley and the rest of the private sector. So if we can believe Snowden’s allegations about the width of his access, then we can safely assume that these efforts were largely successful. Furthermore there is no telling just how much information he has had access to if these efforts were successfully completed in the post-9/11 years. The potential reach would extend well beyond the NSA and into the CIA, FBI, Army/Naval intelligence, Secret Service, NSC, and so on.

            Even if the NSA/DoD were lying to Obama, I doubt the other intelligence agencies that could be potentially involved would be so coy. Also if I’m even in the vicinity of being right about any of the above then counter-intelligence efforts involving Snowden are not anywhere close to overestimating the threat they perceive he poses. I don’t think there’s ever been a reported case where a whistle blower, defector, or individual has had this much access to potentially compromising intel. This puts the Obama Administration’s actions in a context of sorts.

      2. Monte Letourneau

        I think it’s both, they think PR is the only battlefield that matters, and have done so for years untill that is the amygdalla. The brain that puts PR first is already reptillian.

        Josh Fox said it on The Daily Show recently, and though he was discussing fracking science not security, it applies to everything that matters right now – a PR solution to every problem.


        The numbers he’s laying out are critically important!
        CO2 is the tip of the berg, methane is the climate lynchpin of volatile carbons, and the warmer Earth gets the more methane is naturally made by AND released from the Earth itself.

        But the most important thing he says applies much more widely:

        “This is what we’re seeing over and over again, PR solutions and lobbying solutions to technical and engineering problems. The gas industry is fully aware of the fact that their wells are failing, they did the science themselves.” Josh Fox

        Here we see disaster capitalism nationalism’s essence laid bare. The solution to putting more bigger money first is always to put more bigger money first, and the solution to secret government wrong doing is PR.

    3. woah

      Are you saying you would’ve laid WW3 at Weisband’s feet and not on the would-be combatants? I disagree with your assignment of blame in your scenario.

      Similarly, the elites created this Snowden incident by criminalizing whistleblowing (see Kiriakou) while promoting fraud and abuse of power in just about everything they preside over: our money supply, our food supply, our air, our water, our media…everything important! They/you can’t blame Snowden for anything that happens now. The hopelessly corrupt USG is itself responsible for creating this situation.

      >> I don’t think arrogance of our power elite can explain that incident by itself.

      They’ve corrupted everything else with impunity. Frankly, it seems they can afford their arrogance.

      1. Andrew Watts

        Not entirely. Keenan and the other foreign policy Cold Warriors were all gung-ho about the situation. They might have been more cautious if they had the appropriate intelligence relating to what was going on in Stalin’s mind.

        Maybe. Perhaps not.

    4. Fiver

      Mr. Watts,

      You’re presention of a version of events filtered through the eyes of the very agency under discussion is most illuminating, demonstrating nicely, as it does, that the thinking at that agency, and I fear perhaps, your own, always was and always will be that combination of aggression and paranoia that arises when a military and its children in intelligence have pounded their way to the top of the heap and then go full-bore for global hegemony – which US planners determined was the goal well before WWII started.

    5. Banger

      Interesting historical finding and I thank you for your research. However, there is virtually no similarity of that national security state and this one. I’m not being churlish here. The current forces that run the national security state and, in fact most major institutions in this country are playing their own power game and are mainly not interested in our “security” but rather in using threats that Inseriously question to destroy for Orwellian reasons of control. In contrast Stalin was a very real threat his armies had been the major cause of the defeat of the Nazis.

      1. Andrew Watts

        The present national security state is still an outgrowth of the Cold War era. I don’t have any insight into the present goals of the state, so I don’t see any reason to speculate whether their goals are Orwellian or not. The post-war goal of global hegemony is adequate enough.

        The widespread idea that nefarious Orwellian goals are the sole focus of the national security bears more consideration though. Probably not in the context we’d agree on.

        1. Banger

          It is not a simple State. It is deeply enmeshed in various global factions more than just national factions. It isn’t simply Orwellian it has, rather, simply digested the techniques of political control without directly intending to create a strictly Orwellian state–rather those techniques emerge from specific crisis to crisis decisions because they f!cking work!

  19. ltr

    Really, Yves, this is wild, wild speculation and as far off from what has been learned from the work of Glenn Greenwald and fellow reporters at the Guardian and Globo as to completely lose the crucial importance.

    I am so disappointed.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Every discussion of matters in the public realm involves working from incomplete information. The onus is on you to say what you object to in what I’ve written, specifically, as if “here’s why this assumption may be wrong, and if you change X, that means Y, which is fatal to your argument.” Your objection reads like you don’t like my conclusion but you at best can’t be bothered to say why and at worst really can’t undercut the analysis using known information.

      This smacks of you love Snowden and won’t hear any criticism. I’m looking from at this from the perspective of will what he’s done change anything? And his course of action in addition to what he’s leaked DOES impact that. He’s playing an extremely high stakes game and can’t afford own goals. He may have played very very well, but merely “very very well” isn’t sufficient. It has to be pretty much perfect or his opponents have to make mistakes (which is very possible, Napoleon always said he wanted generals who were lucky).

      And I’m going largely from facts on the ground. The bits that is speculative are why he left Hong Kong, which has never been explained and why he left, apparently to go THROUGH Russia, and then stayed in Russia. Given that a seat had been purchased to go to Cuba, this looks to have been an en-route decision, which therefore points to poor planning in choosing that route. He was advised by Wikileaks at that juncture (a Wikileaks person was traveling with him) which further suggests that he relied on bad advice from Wikileaks.

      Now from what you can discern from facts on the ground:

      1. Snowden has invited people he clearly did not know and were not introduced to him, a complete grab bag, to a “press conference.” He diid not just to make an announcement but asked for help. That’s a sign of real weakness, Even if you are in a weak position, you don’t compound it by showing weakness.

      2. The part I didn’t stress in the post but should have is he’s eroded the possibility of getting any reforms in the US when he left HK. Even though HK is part of China, it does have strong dedication to the rule of law (British style bureaucracy and courts) and has had hard-fought legal battles over Chinese dissidents. It would be hard to argue against the deliberateness of the HK court system grinding out justice if he had stuck with that plan.

      Fighting from there would have kept his name in the media long long after the his revelations were over (I’m assuming he could have remained; Snowden is making a tactical mistake if he had to leave HK and in not saying so, as you’ll see in the next para). This would have helped provide impetus to getting reforms in the security state.

      Snowden has now made it almost impossible for even an Alan Grayson to take up Snowden’s crusade now that Snowden’s turned into an apologist for Putin.

      Did you read some of the things he said? He describes Russia as one of the “powerless” human rights abusers, a kind of noble human rights abuser that everyone picks on, as opposed to “the powerful” human rights abusers. So you can be “powerless” and a human rights abuser at the same time? And if you criticize “powerless” human rights abusers, that makes you a coward and a tool of “the powerful”; but if you whitewash “powerless” human rights abusers like Putin, that takes guts.

      If he had gone privately, he wouldn’t have needed to make public statements that are going to make it hard for US pols and commentators to support his cause. To people like you, statements may not matter, “oh he had to make nice to Putin given the position he’s in” but they DO matter in terms of the optics here and which people in a position of influence will be willing to go to bat on his issues.

      By contrast, if he was indeed forced to leave HK, he would have been better off alluding to the fact that he wasn’t sure he’d be welcome there for as long as his legal battle would take and he hadn’t intended to make Russia a destination (also likely true) and since Putin had said Snowden really should leave, he hoped Putin was a man of his word and would make the arrangements (temporary asylum or some sort of transit pass) so he do so.

      In other words, even given the not-good decision to go the press conference route, he still could ask Russia for help without saying things that undermined his objective of getting the security state reined in. This is why negotiating privately and then making a statement if and when a fix was in, or at least getting advice before making public statements would have been preferable.

      I see little possibility of this turning into a major political movement and serious reform of the security state. By contrast, the last time we have revelations of bad CIA behavior, we got the Church Commission in the 1970s, some investigations, and reforms. The odds didn’t favor that happening this time, but Snowden has just lowered the odds much further by talking up Putin. This may not matter to you but it makes him toxic as far as US politicians are concerned. And they were the ones in a position to create some heat over this.

      Oh one other bit is Putin may not be annoyed. He might be enjoying this thoroughly and simply pretending to be annoyed in the occasional public statement so as to look like he’s placating the US. But his public stance that he is annoyed allows him to demand concessions from Snowden if he so chooses.

      1. LucyLulu

        Yves wrote:

        “By contrast, if he was indeed forced to leave HK, he would have been better off alluding to the fact that he wasn’t sure he’d be welcome there for as long as his legal battle would take and he hadn’t intended to make Russia a destination (also likely true) and since Putin had said Snowden really should leave, he hoped Putin was a man of his word and would make the arrangements (temporary asylum or some sort of transit pass) so he do so.”

        This is my best guess. Given his situation, who knows how much he feels free to reveal. In regards to the presser, this is sheer speculation, but my theory is that Russia/Putin had a strong hand in the arrangements. Snowden felt compelled to oblige. Putin comes across (to me) as a man who likes to control all the details, and would very much enjoy covertly toying with Obama, whom allegedly he dislikes.

        In any case, Putin’s condition for asylum seems out of character. Is there some catch?

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          If Putin has drinking buddies, I imagine he’s laughing his head off with them over how America has played this.

          The real shocker, as several readers pointed out, was the diversion and search of Morales’ plane. Any doubt over whether the US would take unheard of measures to push allies to try to capture Snowden were settled. And what about asking, or more likely “asking” in a way that indicated only “yes was an acceptable answer to search a presidential plane? My understanding is presidential aircraft are tantamount to embassies, they enjoy diplomatic immunity: http://dissidentvoice.org/2013/07/bolivias-morales-dissed-and-pissed-as-france-portugal-and-austria-violate-diplomatic-immunity/

          So what does it matter what Putin says? The US has caged Snowden in Russia. He has to go to Putin or try waiting 2 or 3 years in the transit zone and see if any of the big boundary conditions change by virtue of acting like a stateless prisoner.

          It costs Putin nothing to throw America a crumb or two, which is how I read this “if you come here, you need to stop damaging the US” business. That is almost comical. First, Snowden has likely handed his material to the Guardian. Now he might need to stop assisting them in interpreting it, but he’s had a lot of time to do that so far. Second, so Snowden makes no further public remarks. That’s not what’s hurting the US, it’s the substance of the releases. If the Guardian does have additional material, it can and I assume would continue publishing stories without Snowden’s further input.

          And do you think a public statement like that would stop Putin from having Snowden debriefed privately? No way. This is an empty gesture that does not preclude chats behind closed doors.

          Similarly, as for Putin clearing his throat to say Snowden needed to Do Something, that appeared to be another empty concession to the US. So what if Snowden takes 3 weeks or three months to come into Putin’s hands? The end game is the same. The only difference appears to be how much access the international media has to him by virtue of Snowden going to Putin sooner rather than later.

      2. Andrew Watts

        Sen. Wyden was making some progress in that regard well before the Snowden affair. He was also able to score some points off Clapper’s incompetent and incomplete answers to his testimony. But things are quite different now. With Snowden in Russia and residing under the thumb of their intelligence agencies, any attempts at reform will be stonewalled as every avenue will likely be locked down. For no other reason then the fear that more classified information will leak out.

        1. Banger

          There was not then or is now any possibility of reining in the national security state through the normal political process. Church functioned in a different era when the left actually existed as a real force.

          The Snowden revelations slightly increased the odds for reform because it has sharpened the divide within both political parties vis a vis the national security and now emergent police state. Interestingly this anti-statist tendency is mainly on the right since the American left has given up being in opposition to neo-liberalism and its many discontents.

      3. wunsacon

        Since this is a blog that mostly discusses or links to the substance, I think it’s fine for NC to speculate about “horse-race issues”, too.

        >> I’m looking from at this from the perspective of will what he’s done change anything?

        Reform starts with understanding. Snowden changed the latter, not just by his own direct revelations but by precipitating such action as grounding of Morales’ plane. The former is up to us, the voters.

        1. wunsacon

          Indeed, judging from the allegations and the behavior of the EU elites, it appears to me that:

          – The EU is the US/UK’s bitch.

          In turn, that corroborates some other suspicions I’ve had about such things as:
          – France invading Libya.
          – The implementation of austerity in the EU, in contrast to the relatively consistent government spending in the US.

            1. psychohistorian

              It will be harder to kill the social safety net in the EU than the US and so the initial focus is there. The US has to stay empire long enough to make the EU austere….and then it becomes the US’s turn.

              1. Kurt Sperry

                What if the purpose of inflicting European austerity isn’t to gut the European social safety net, but the Euro? What better way is there? I don’t really see any huge upside to being a world reserve currency from my own perspective (pretty much locks in a significant trade deficit making unemployment issues worse), but very serious people do and seem to take it very seriously. Surely the Euro was the only significant challenger to the USD. I mean I know the PRC is a big economic player and all, but does anyone see the RMB a serious competitor?

                Maybe Germany softened up Latin Europe with austerity and we kicked them while they were down by forcing them to very, very publicly humiliate themselves. France, Spain Italy and Portugal come out of this Snowden thing looking completely pathetic and powerless.

      4. Monte Letourneau

        His opponents HAVE made mistakes, and seem intent on continuing to do so.

        He has had limited opportunity to hook up with good advice without tipping his hand prematurely.

        He’s done much better than most of us would have in such a fluid and unpredictable situation of extreme gravitas.

        We don’t know why he stayed in Moscow, so you also have no idea why he has not told us why.

        Your intent was laudable but your execution does belie some bias.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          My “bias” is looking for Snowden’s revelations to produce results.

          Despite the fact that polls in the US and overseas show considerable support for what he has done (and remember, this is with the US propaganda apparatus fully against him), there was already NOT ONE PEEP about official investigations.

          By contrast, the last time the US had a big spying scandal (CIA spying on citizens) we got the Church Committee + some reforms.

          So with all due respect to Snowden and the Guardian, all we’ve had so far is a great “pass the popcorn” moment. You may not like hearing that but that is where we are.

          Snowden having gotten himself trapped in Russia (which I attribute to relying on bad advice from Wikileaks) reduces the low odds that anything will change in the US for reasons stated elsewhere on this thread, that by having put himself at Putin’s mercy, it’s going to be very hard for any Congressman to support his cause in a serious way.

          There is a possibility that the Europeans will push back. But I don’t see strong signs of that either. The grounding of the Morales plane was a powerful statement as to who is really in charge. And it’s pretty clear the European national governments are to a very large degree willing participants in US surveillance (we already have evidence of cooperation). So investigations would embarrass political leaders for being US stooges. So they don’t have reason to do more than give lip service.

  20. ian

    There are a couple of aspects of this that I don’t understand:

    If Putin chooses to give him asylum, what, exactly can the US do about it? It’s not like Russia gets tons of foreign aid from us or that we would launch a pre-emptive strike. What’s Obama going to do – threaten to hold his breath?

    Why would he have to leave by air? The “transit area” can include anything up to hotels close to the airport as I understand it. How do we know he hasn’t had daily cab rides into the Kremlin? If he were to slip away (with the help of the Russian government, and could make it to a sea port …

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Read the Reuters article I linked to, it discusses his transit options. Basically, adding a land route through Russia does not help as much as you’d think.

  21. vegas mike

    The Democratic party of 2013 is much more conservative than the Democratic party of 1975. much of the leadership, Sen. Schumer and Sen. Feinstein, would be perfectly happy to see Snowden rot in a super-max prison. I don’t know who would be the contemporary version of Sen. Church. American prisons can be very bad places. Maybe Snowden’s goal right now is simply to stay out of jail.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      “The Democratic party of 2013 is much more conservative than the Republican* party of 1975.”

      I fixed it for you.

    2. Monte Letourneau

      Not that US jail wouldn’t be torturous, but he would then be silenced.

      I think it is critical to his plan to remain on point and responsive to developements (and misdirection) of the discussion.

      Plus, his liberty, and the attempt to constrain it, is one of the most important points, second only to the fact that unknown private persons have all your metadata.

      All your meta is belong to us.

  22. Z

    I think his high profile overtures to Russia may actually be a veiled threat to the U.S. to get them to back off and let him leave to go to South America becoz if he does indeed get in Russia’s hands, then the Kremlin will definitely want to interrogate him to see what info he may have of interest to them … potentially coercing him to give them all the stuff he has.

    I think that might be his ploy, but how wise those calculations would be I don’t know.

    Count me as one that is impressed with how he’s handled this situation so far though.


    1. LucyLulu

      “Count me as one that is impressed with how he’s handled this situation so far though.”

      Hear, hear. He’s a 29 year old IT kid. He has no experience in foreign diplomacy, extradition, or the nuts and bolts of seeking asylum, much less in the face of having to deal with obstruction by a determined superpower at every turn. Has the US ever pursued any citizen so fiercely before?

      1. Z

        Yeah, I think he’s played his cards pretty well. Even the ones he hasn’t thrown down yet …


    2. NotTimothyGeithner

      I sort of think the plan was to go to Russia originally because U.S. citizens have more restricted movements than citizens of countries which have noticed the USSR fell in 1991. I don’t think anyone wants to just show up unannounced where they might become a media storm and put pressure on the leaders without an understanding.

      First, Snowden needed to go where he would be safe from reprisal, not just the U.S. government but anyone who might be in danger of being exposed for criminal activity if Congress were to do an oversight job. This puts China and Russia as the likely destinations.

      China presents an obvious problem. Its a one-party state. For all of Putin’s faults, he is popularly elected and won in his own right*. I don’t think Snowden and the brain trust for lack of a better phrase wanted to keep leaking from China to prevent the U.S. media from pushing the traitor memo. Russia has certain problems, but I don’t think showing up unannounced would have gone over well with Putin.

      My last thought in this chain of events is the landing of Morales’ plane. I think getting to South America keeps the story in South America and can help set a precedent for organizing without the U.S. which is more necessary than ever.

      The UN and the good politicians in the U.S. government are wastes and have been for years.

      *I’m aware of changing the constitution, but its been done before and was done legally. Of course, our two term limit was established because FDR was too popular for Republican tastes.

  23. tongorad

    Has NC been taken over by MSNBC?

    This article could have been penned by Melissa Harris-Perry.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      So if someone says Snowden’s has made a tactical error, they are an Administration shill? So someone is sympathetic to Snowden, they must declare him a saint and above reproach? Sorry, we don’t do hero worship here.

      1. tongorad

        Come on now. The issue is the NSA revalations. Whether Snowden is a saint or sinner is trivial and beneath the caliber of thinking/discourse that typically characterizes this site.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          No, you really don’t get it, do you? I’m talking about tactics, and you were the one who tried making any criticism of Snowden’s actions into being against him. Try Googling “psychological projection” because that is what you are doing.

          So what does it matter if Snowden publishes all this material and NOTHING CHANGES, or worse, the NSA demands and gets even more spy powers as a result of the revelations?

          By going to Russia, the DoD and NSA will take the position that Snowden has to spill all to Putin. I can’t imagine that Putin would not have Snowden debriefed at considerable length as a condition of getting asylum. Putin has all the cards and every reason to use them. He’d be crazy not to. And tell me how Putin can lose. If his security people try debriefing Snowden and Snowden refuses to talk, they can send him back to the hotel and simply cut off his internet access (or do the bureaucratically deniable version of having it get to be so slow as to be virtually unusable so Snowden can’t say affirmatively that Putin is fucking with him). Putin just needs to wait patiently until Snowden gets that Putin controls his destiny and Snowden needs to accede to his requests.

          The only reason I could fathom for Putin not to go that route is if he thinks Snowden isn’t worth the trouble, that he doesn’t have much/anything valuable.

          So it is a completely logical assumption that Snowden will have to trade information for help and that his denials can’t be trusted (as in Snowden would deny assisting the Russians whether he helped them or not). So the DoD and NSA will insist that the assumption has to be that Snowden sold out the US. And this argument will be used against everyone in a position of influence who tries standing up for Snowden (“look, in theory you might be right, but we can’t take that chance”).

          As a result, support for Snowden in Congress will evaporate. The odds of getting investigations and reforms have dropped from possible (not likely, but still possible) to pretty much a non-starter.

          This has nothing to do with character and everything to do with a likely fatal tactical error. The odds are now very good that Snowden’s revelations will count for very little, except for establishing for history when it was undeniable that Americas’ elites were fully and knowingly complicit in the creation and maintenance of a police state.

          1. tongorad

            I understand that Snowden’s affiliation with Russia/Putin will be used to smear his credibility and intentions. But I’m guessing that he’ll face the same relentless propaganda attacks where ever he ends up.

            As for the likelihood that Snowden’s revalations will change anything, and using that as the standand to evaluate his ongoing moves, I’m wondering what is the precedent for whistleblowers changing anything?

            Ellsberg’s revalations contributed to the dethronement of Richard Nixon, but I’m not sure they directly contributed to the end of our Vietnam agression, and long-term, they did nothing to curtail our war-machine in the slightest.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              Whistleblower disclosures about CIA spying in the past did lead to investigations and reforms (see Church Committee).

          2. Bill B

            It seems you’ve gone from Snowden has played a very very good but not perfect game, to he’ll utterly fail to make a real difference.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              Those are not contradictory positions. Snowden played things very well until he left Hong Kong, but that just isn’t good enough.

              Playing very well isn’t sufficiently good in a battle like this. He has to be pretty much perfect and ALSO be lucky. What would happen if you put a superb high school football team up against the best pro team? If the high school team was anything other than beaten into a pulp, you’d be impressed. This is how uneven this battle is, if not more. You can credit Snowden with punching way way above his weight and for his guts in even trying. But that is completely different than saying that means he’ll be able to effect change.

              He can’t afford any mistakes. It is not popular to point this out. We don’t like seeing Davids in David v. Goliath battles lose (pretty much all action movies have that sort of plot, the ought to be outmatched guy prevailing) but Davids generally lose, and this is one honker big mean Goliath.

              What was likely his best chance was members of the elite getting upset about the surveillance. There are lots of billionaires and company executives who are being surveilled the same way as you and me, and America’s history says the authorities aren’t shy about using that sort of info when they don’t have better ways to apply pressure. But they’d work through Congresscritters, and as indicated above, the odds that Snowden has had to or will trade information with the Russians has lowered the odds of Congressional action a lot.

              Another route, as indicated above, are the Europeans and Chinese getting the NSA and its stooges (Google) out of the backbone, or at least somewhat out. That’s a longer term project and may or may not happen on the sly. You might see some overt measures too like more insistence on privacy measures being adhered to. But that stuff won’t help Americans

              The apathy of the public is also a HUGE factor. Approval in polls is not translating to real action, like activists organizing burning their smartphones in public. How many people could even be bothered to sign the WH petition calling for him to be pardoned? Did you? Over 100,000 signatures is nice, it forces a WH response, but it would take at least 500,000 for it to register with the officialdom that the public was engaged on this issue.

              The easy measures, like using DuckDuckGo, aren’t effective. Once you click through from DuckDuckGo to a site, your webhost has that info, unless you are on Tor. But using Tor or other anonymized browsers is waving a red flag at the NSA, they’ll make figuring out who you are a priority.

              Have you made any serious changes, like getting rid of a smart phone and tablet, moving off a Microsoft or Mac OS, doing as much shopping as possible in cash, setting up a VPN or encrypted e-mail? If not, you are a walking illustration that Snowden’s sacrifice is pointless. If you can’t be bothered to change your habits, your actions are telling tech vendors this issue isn’t important to you (hurting them in their wallets would be another way to foment change).

  24. ohmyheck

    Just tossing this out there, but why not consider Iran for asylum? If you look at a map, there doesn’t seem to be any air space issues that could be a problem.

    One problem might be that “somebody” has been fairly successful at assassinating Iranian nuclear engineers, which means that there is a questionable security situation there, depending on who you are.

    1. Andrew Watts

      It isn’t that simple. You can fully support what Snowden did, while at the same time wondering about the possible consequences of the storm he has unleashed. Or his decision making process.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Are you incapable of anything other than black and white thinking? That’s basically what your comment says. And black and white thinking is one of the pet tools of propagandists, to find minor fault and use that to discredit a person or a cause.

      We often criticize people who have done good things when they stuff up. For instance, Warren has made effective use of her bully pulpit in the Senate by getting banking issues back in the media. But her student loan bill is lame. But you are insisting I have to be either in the fan or demonizer camp with everyone, no nuanced discussion permitted.

      This blog is about critical thinking. It just happens to focus mainly on finance and economics. It sounds as if you’d rather read straight up unadulterated propaganda, so I suggest you frequent another site.

      Snowden can still snatch defeat from the jaws of his apparent victories by making tactical errors. To ignore that is naive.

      1. Malmo

        Oh please. Snowden against the most powerful country of all time, amd I’m to believe your latest narative undermining him? No chance.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Oh, puhleeze. This isn’t even good straw manning.

          I’m not nor have I ever been in the business of creating narratives. Go talk to Burson Marsteller or an ad agency if you want to have that conversation. Nor do I have delusions about the size of my readership. And you insinuate that I’ve put up anti-Snowden posts, which is inaccurate.

          I would like to have seen Snowden succeed, but he made an error in getting himself stranded in Moscow and compounded it by flailing about in public, which is what his press conference amounted to. Just because his manner was relaxed does not mean that the substance was not detrimental to his efforts.

  25. Herb Jackson

    Putin’s as much of a Saint as Bush. These two boys rode together in a big white Ford Expedition. So, the mafia attacked Iraq, pissed away 3 trillion, killed perhaps over a million people there, destroyed the economy here, foreclosed on over 20 million people, but, after all, the oil loot is now mostly Chinas. Less than a year ago Exxon was going to be kicked out in favor of Russian companies in the West Qurna-1 project. Snowden should put on a dress and feign a mental breakdown, the shopping cart man of Sheremetyevo. He’s tolerated, given coffee and food, every once in a while the cops tell him to move on.

  26. Jesse

    Sometimes the opera is difficult to follow without a program, especially if one does not speak the language.

    1. wunsacon

      For most of us in the dark, who’s the fat lady and when does she sing?

      Uh oh… I’m picturing Hillary putting on some more weight and wearing one of those Nebulung Brünnehilde helmets… Is that the sign we’re waiting for?

  27. alex morfesis

    snowjob should come home and force a public trial…

    he probably does not have anything so great in his hands…he is just the typical person who woke up one morning and realized that he was not in kansas anymore…

    to him and his limited background, what he saw was a “revelation” but there is probably nothing in his back pocket that a foreign country of capacity does not already know, although the little people have been fed enough to have them lift their eyes off the telee for a moment or two…

    He is safest putting his head into the mouth of the lion.

    During the McCarthy/Van Susteren era, Paul Robeson was threatened by right wing neonazi’s and klansman if he dared sing at a public event in Peekskill sept 4, 1949…threatened with death…a wall of union workers surrounded him and although there had been a riot the week before against his concert, he sang and dared those who were full of hate to take their best shot…

    Snowjob will find the most support here in the US…it is his safest bet…

    There will be a wave of attorneys who will be filing writs if the government tries to military tribunal him…he might have to take the time to learn some tai chi if he wants to not wake up one morning and be accidented by a small group of “civilians” and he probably should learn to drive old stick shift cars…heaven forbid his abs brakes…malfunction…one day…

    at most he will probably get a 15 year sentance reduced to 5 years if he keeps quiet in clubfed…that is if the too big to jail junkies at the Justice Dept can take a moment to actually think through a case…he will have a whole lot of attorneys working for him…Justice will not be able to “boo” him into a settlement…and since what he has or has handed out could not alter the national security interest…justice may have a hard time proving harm…this may also lead to toning down of this nonsense of “classifieding” every little document describing how many rolls of toilet paper the us national park service purchases on a weekly basis…in wyoming…

    or, he can keep talking to countries that overtly respect journalists like russia…china…cuba…venezuela…ecuador…

    he has done good…but it is time to sell the sizzle before
    the steak gets cold…

    time to come home and be an adult about what he did…time to put the constitution up to a real test…

    the constitution will hold…the nation will be better if he stops running and faces the music…

    he will have 50 court tv wanabee attorneys begging for the chance to be on national television “defending” him…

    Justice may even, if he is smart and lets it tone down a bit after he arrives back on US Soil…may let him take a deal with two years actually served and another 23 years of probation or a suspended sentence…It will not be easy for Justice to win this case against him…his lawyers will scream “whistleblower” and it will impossible to prove any real harm from his “release” of information…only the average american is who is finding this out for the first time…there are many specialized trade publications which describe the government contracted programs he had access to…nothing, zero, nada that has been disclosed thus far has not been disclosed (perhaps with less detail, but the average network security person could have told you if the NSA was not doing it, the chinese could…)

    The internet is not and has never been secure…and it can’t be…the manner in which pieces of a message flow through the routers can not NOT be public…and encryption is only great if you are worried about your better half not catching you communicating with an old girlfriend from college…

    Big Bluffer has been in people personal lives long before humans decided to make it easier by handing their lives up to myspace, the globe and farcebook…Dialog, Compuserve, Easynet, BRS, DJ, Nexis, the source, and on and on and on…

    the good thing about it all is that if you have not noticed…most people are not so easily mesmerized, they may not be motivated to get off the couch and protest…but not really mesmerized as much as the fat little pink man brigade(guys who are always indoors and get no sun…have my share of gay relatives and friends…no flamemail please) would like us to believe…unless one wants to argue the constant change of advertising campaigns is a method to the sadness…

    senior chompski is wrong…it is not manufactured consent…it is at best, manufactured distraction…

    and with that…time to get back to see if my mets are going to annoy us by acting like they might make a run at a wildcard spot..

    adios amigos…

      1. alex morfesis

        mets lost…

        but the being an adult part…

        if he really wants to be more than the kid who makes jokes under his breath in the back of the room about the girl with the glasses whose mom made her wear out of style clothes, then yeah…

        he needs to step up and make change…

        he could have done this in the US without running out of the country…

        he could have had lawyers lined up…

        he is not the first person with a security clearance to shout from the roof tops…

        if he is for real…and I am not convinced he is…

        then he needs to face the fire…

        he certainly has a better chance of garnering public support in the us than overseas…and he can in the future
        live in fairly public places if he is really concerned for his safety…

        but no one put a gun to his head to take a job with a national security oath…his choice…

        he could have waited until his job was over…he could have
        done something to be “forced out” of the system and be less in focus…and then brought forth what he knows…or thinks he knows…

        so yeah…

        he needs to be an adult about it

        and accept that if he is looking to make the change he is claiming to want to make…

        then he does it here…right here…

        and not hiding…

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          This is naive. He had to make contact with the Guardian, transfer documents, and explain them. The process of getting what he has released so far out has run a couple of months. The NSA (per prior press reports) went into full bore capture mode as soon as the first story hit. He would have been detained with no bail and denied Internet access. We would have gotten only a fraction of what he’s released so far.

          Obama and other officials have declared him to be guilty of a crime. How can Snowden get a fair trial here? And how could he line up lawyers in advance? You aren’t entitled to attorney-client privileged until you have actually HIRED the lawyer, so he couldn’t go shopping, and lawyers are required to inform the cops if they believe a client is about to perpetrate a crime. So he might have gotten himself arrested with NO revelations if he had followed your advice.

          As for lining up lawyers now, you get what you pay for. Aaron Swartz committed suicide basically because he could not afford the cost of defending himself (a garden variety federal trial is $1.5 million, and this would not be garden variety).

          And you are dreaming if you think the Feds would not be super punitive with how Snowden was imprisoned when he lost (which is pretty much certain). The wife of a colleague represented a mobster on appeal. The issue was not that he wasn’t guilty of bad stuff (he was) but that unlike the other guys in his gang, he’d refused to turn state’s evidence (he’d never promised to). They put him in solitary confinement and other punitive conditions way out of line with even his bad crimes just because he dared to defy the DoJ. They were determined to make his life as miserable as possible in the prison system. She did get his conditions reduced to what was appropriate for his crimes.

          You can guarantee they’d do the same to Snowden. Look at how Manning is being tortured.

          1. Johnathan Stein

            >>Look at how Manning is being tortured.

            He wasn’t, though.

            I had thought so, but Manning did admit to a suicide attempt , so the harsh precautions of “suicide watch” are justified; Manning brought this upon himself. An officer who let him off himself would have kissed his career goodbye.

            No doubt, though, that Snowden would have an unpleasant stay as a guest of the Fascist States of America.

          2. Banger

            Great reply. You understand the reality of the American Justice system few people who have not directly encountered it would want to believe it.

          3. Yves Smith Post author


            Are you kidding me?

            They were keeping the lights on at night, waking him every few hours, having him sleep naked on a bed with no pillow. He was also kept shackled.


            This was not a suicide watch. This was an effort to sleep deprivation and duress to break him.

            The UN rapporteur on torture also charged the US with “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” of Manning.


            Better trolls, please.

          1. alex morfesis

            manning was still active military…

            aaron was tweeking something that most people do not even know about or access, which was this Ithaki/jstor government subsidized but somehow semi privatized database…

            not every lawyer in america is a wimp…

            giving up a client who is going to be a whistleblower ??

            and not every lawyer in america overbills like NYC lawyers…

            I have no knowledge as to what type of media he used
            to download and keep his information…not sure if he
            used steganography or superkalifragilistikexpialidoscious encription, placed it in a burned cd of rave music and handed it off to someone else, or just had a friend sell an old laptop to some “stranger” at a flea market to get it into the right hands…

            I don’t except that an institution like the guardian, with its own computer security personnel would not mislead the public or anyone inquiring as to how they “actually” got the information…

            Inspite of what has transpired in my own life in the past, I have faith in our system…

            they can manipulate…but not control…

            like I said…he can arrange lawyers and attorney client does not begin just with payment…

            how do accident attorneys fall into this catagory when most
            take no money and just sign a contract for a contingency ?

            He can arrange for lawyers now…

            Aside from his most recent stupid statements, doing his best imitation of pres bill with his definition of what “having sex” is…or I mean oppression…and human rights…but there are still a few lawyers who would step up
            to the administration…and just because someone is obviously guilty does not mean a jury will convict…look at zimmerman…

            For many lawyers this case would be about the rights of the average citizen and privacy…

            snowjob would give them a chance to turn back the clock on all this 911 be happy those muslims who pray for the return of jesus 5 times a day are not blowing you up nonsense…

            muslims pray 5 times a day for the return of jesus to fix the world…and they are this “danger” to christians…

            mind you, the muslims say when isa returns he will turn all christians into muslims…but its still the same jesus…son of mary…

            if he hides somewhere on this planet, he will be a page 27 notice, six years from now on a friday about

            “former NSA whistleblower, Snowjob, was the victim of a house explosion when the propane tank in his wilderness home
            leaked and his friend came over and lit a cigar”…

            or something to that effect…

            I accept that what certain elements of our power structure are willing to do…but frank serpico is still alive…forgotten, but still alive…

            it doesnt always end with death…sometimes it ends with a whimper…

  28. proper ganda

    Watts’ cherrypicked research smells of the Langley lamp. The relevant precedent is not Weisband, it’s Agee. The secrets at issue are US government crimes.

    And Watts’ argument that Snowden is making life hard for Wyden is risible. The reason why we need Snowdens to defend our Article 17 and 19 rights is that Wyden doesn’t have the balls to do it. Wyden can read anything he wants into the Congressional Record but he buys into the government-issued “ooh, don’t make them mad” canard. Don’t do anything to upset the national-intelligence Stasi, or they will clam up. Wyden will lose his insider privileges. If the national intelligence Stasi can make fools of Senate oversight committees this easily, the national intelligence Stasi is a bigger threat to US human security than any foreign enemy, and it needs to be razed and purged and scattered to the four winds. To coin a phrase.

    The primary lesson of Snowden is that a callow journeyman technical specialist can do more to get NSA under control than the United States Senate. The Senate has no role. The international community will take it from here.

    So give it up. Nobody here is stupid enough to trust Democratic legislators to rein NSA in.

  29. proper ganda

    Watts’ cherrypicked research smells of the Langley lamp. The relevant precedent is not Weisband, it’s Agee. The secrets at issue are US government crimes.

    And Watts’ line that Snowden is making life hard for Wyden is risible. The reason why we need Snowdens to defend our Article 17 and 19 rights is that Wyden doesn’t have the balls to do it. Wyden can read anything he wants into the Congressional Record but he buys into the government issue “ooh, don’t make them mad” canard. Don’t do anything to upset the national-intelligence Stasi, or they will clam up, or Wyden will lose his insider privileges. If the national intelligence Stasi can make fools of Senate oversight committees this easily, the national intelligence Stasi is a bigger threat to US human security than any foreign enemy, and it needs to be razed and purged and scattered to the four winds. To coin a phrase.

    The primary lesson of Snowden is that a callow journeyman technical specialist can do more to get NSA under control than the United States Senate. The Senate has no role. The international community will take it from here.

    So give it up. Nobody here is stupid enough to trust Democratic legislators to stop the NSA.

  30. mother may i

    Watts’ cherrypicked research smells of the Fort Meade lamp. The relevant precedent is not Weisband, it’s Agee. The secrets at issue are US government crimes.

    And Watts’ line that Snowden is making life hard for Wyden is risible. The reason why we need Snowdens to defend our Article 17 and 19 rights is that Wyden doesn’t have the balls to do it. Wyden can read anything he wants into the Congressional Record but he buys into the government issue “ooh, don’t make them mad” canard. Don’t do anything to upset the national-intelligence Stasi, or they will clam up, or Wyden will lose his insider privileges. If the national intelligence Stasi can make fools of Senate oversight committees this easily, the national intelligence Stasi is a bigger threat to US human security than any foreign enemy, and it needs to be razed and purged and scattered to the four winds. To coin a phrase.

    The primary lesson of Snowden is that a callow journeyman technical specialist can do more to get NSA under control than the United States Senate. The Senate has no role. The international community will take it from here.

    So give it up. Nobody here is stupid enough to trust Democratic politicians to stop the NSA Chekists.

  31. Jackrabbit

    I think that, for now, Snowden principally wants a safe place where he can do his work. The transit lounge affords him that.

    I think the main need for the hasty news conference was to establish that he has a destination (only a few hours before Putin was scheduled to talk with Obama!) and thereby qualifies to remain in the transit lounge.

    I’m not sure that Snowden knows where he will ultimately end up (recall how certain he was that he was going to remain in HK). There are pros and cons to: a) accepting asylum in Russia; b) accepting asylum in South America; c) returning to the US.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      1. Obama had scheduled the call with Putin to talk about Snowden and other issues before the press conference was announced. I’ve been trying to figure out the timetable, but it looks like it was arranged the night before (as in before the phone call) but might have taken place after the call (not that Snowden would know the time).

      2. Snowden initially applied (or said he would apply for asylum) in Russia, then changed his mind.

      3. He does not sound like he wants to wind up in Russia. He pointedly asked for only “temporary asylum” and in the press conference gave the impression he wants to wind up in South America.


      One bit in the Telegraph account that I haven’t seen elsewhere is

      The guests were transported by bus to a meeting with Mr Snowden, who was accompanied by the British WikiLeaks activist, Sarah Harrison, who has been with him for several weeks.

      I’m increasingly skeptical that he is being well served by Wikileaks. Assange blew the arrangements with Ecuador by having the London embassy try issuing a transit document in contravention of normal internal protocols. They may have presented themselves to Snowden as being more expert than they really are (as in more traditional human rights organizations may have less profile but have fought more real cases in more countries than Wikileaks and thus have more experience and better contacts).

      1. Jackrabbit

        Yves: I think you are raising valid and important questions about the importance of Snowden’s next moves and how crucial those moves will be to the prospect for real change.

        I don’t see Snowden as someone that is easily led or would easily trust others. He seems to understand his situation very well and is smart enough (it appears) to get multiple opinions from the many people that are sympathetic – not to rely solely on Wikileaks.

        = = = =

        1. Obama had scheduled the call with Putin…
        The lack of a destination made Putin/Russia vulnerable. The US would’ve been using this fact to advantage before any call was scheduled (Putin/Russia/Snowden knew the clock was ticking). Its not difficult to imagine that US/Obama was ready to call “foul” and DEMAND Snowden’s immediate return.

        2. Snowden initially applied… in Russia. Then changed his mind.
        His Russian application was one of many. Snowden pulled it because of Putin’s stipulation that he stop releasing information. Asylum in Russia (temporary or otherwise) would probably only mean that he can’t release information while he is in Russia. Maybe he could go to the Venezuelan embassy to release information?

        3. He doesn’t sound like he wants to wind up in Russia
        Now we are being told that if anything happens to Snowden a great deal of sensitive info will be released. Maybe Snowden is relying on this ‘insurance policy’ to keep him safe in Venezuela and other (non-Russian) countries that he may visit?

        It was interesting that he accepted ALL current and future offers of asylum. I guess he’s like to travel between and among these countries?

        I also wouldn’t be surprised if he were to negotiate a return to the US at some point in the (distant?) future.

        I don’t think “Assange blew the arrangements” as much as Ecuador blinked. Also note that Ecador’s ‘blinking’ occurred before the outrage of Maduro’s plane diverersion. At that time, Ecuador was facing the full wrath of the US alone.

        1. Lambert Strether

          On your bolded portion (just as a hook to say this):

          If one would like to see more successful whistleblowing (and even the progressives, ostensibly at least, would like to) then it’s important to apply critical thinking to the tactics that whistleblowers use. One would think that the views of persons involved in complex, high level, high stakes negotiations would be especially useful….

          Of course, critical thinking and pom pom-waving are not necessarily compatible; the first is difficult, and the second, very easy.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          Look at the timetable. Morales was ripshit about Assange interfering in the operations of his diplomats by trying to get the London embassy to issue a transit document without proper authorization and signatures. Assange was basically pushing Ecudor’s diplomats around. I’d be furious if someone whose survival DEPENDED on me started screwing around with my business. Frankly, Assange is lucky Morales didn’t evict him from the embassy after that stunt.

          1. Jackrabbit

            Well, I would just note that there is likely much that is happening behind the scenes and we probably won’t have the whole story for years. I imagine that China and Russia have helped covertly (because they benefit by disclosures that embarrass their ‘frenemy’).

            Was Snowden’s ‘escape’ from HK really due to a mistaken action by a diplomat that was convinced by Assange’s pleadings? Was it really not possible to contact Ecuador’s President AND Foreign Minister? I’ve read that South American countries can be independent only because of China’s trade. Did China use its influence to help get Snowden out of HK?

            Was the intention really to travel from HK to Ecuador, or to just get Snowden to the Moscow transit zone?

            Is Venezuelan asylum really the ultimate place for Snowden? Well, for now, it allows him to remain in the transit zone!

            Couldn’t Venezuela provide Snowden with a travel document (like Ecuador did previously – which allowed Snowden to get to Moscow)? Does an application for ‘temporary asylum’ in Russia for purposes of travel just allow for more time in the transit zone?!

            Could Snowden be using the prospect of asylum in Russia as leverage to negotiate terms for a return to the US? Snowden’s father, I believe, has said that Snowden wishes to remain free and un-gagged before and during trial.>/i>

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              If you think the transit zone is a good place for Snowden to be, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.

              Putin controls his destiny. How is that a plus? Please explain that to me. Unless Snowden decides to stay for years in the transit zone and see if he can outlast Putin (the man is over 70), the endgame is going to be costly. By contrast, in HK, it would have been impossible to render Snowden and would have taken YEARS to extradite him (even if that were to come to pass). If the priority was to “do his work” he could in HK.

              Russia denied the local Ecuadorian ambassador access to him, or did you forget that part? And foreign diplomat fly into a different airport, so they can’t transit through and see him that way.

              Putin somehow decided to let that press conference happen (as in let activists and one parliamentarian in). Maybe he figured it was a low-cost way to look like he was indulging Obama in moving the Snowden matter forward. Or maybe he wanted the guy who was close to him to have a look at Snowden and size him up and having the meeting was cover (of course for all we know Snowden has been meeting with or talking to people from the government).

              1. Jackrabbit

                – Well, you’re right that Putin essentially “controls his destiny” but that truism doesn’t capture the full story. Putin has made a strong statement that Snowden has not passed into Russia to avoid a showdown with the US. And Snowden has an extremely high profile worldwide. So Putin’s acting in a blatantly underhanded way (snatching Snowden, for example) would come at a (probably high) cost.

                Plus, Putin is probably more than pleased with Snowden’s releasing more and more info. Add to that the propaganda value of being appearing to champion human rights and enticing other US whistle-blowers and it becomes clear that Putin has every reason not to act maliciously.

                FWIW, Putin himself has characterized the prospect of interfering with Snowden as “shaving a pig” (a lot of trouble for no wool).

                – If Ecuador was just used to get a travel document, then there would be no reason to allow the Ecuadorian Ambassador to see Snowden. Frankly, I wonder if Snowden’s travel to Moscow was a surprise to China and Ecuador. (I expect that there are more direct ways to get from HK to Ecuador.)

                – No, I don’t think the transit area is best for any long period of time.

                – I wonder if the prospect of Snowden actually accepting asylum in Russia will be enough to wrest concessions from the US (Snowden’s father has said that he wishes to be free and un-gagged before and during trial)?

                The discussion gets more and more into speculation. We really have to see how things play out over the coming weeks.

          2. MsExPat

            That would be Rafael Correa (president of Ecuador), not Evo Morales (president of Bolivia.)

            Correa strikes me as a fairly macho leader type; I’m not at all surprised that he popped a cork when he found out what Assange and the Ecuadorean minister had cooked up in London without consulting him first. You’d think after all these months in the Ecuadorean embassy Assange would have a clue about how power works in Latin American culture.

            1. vlade

              As far as I can tell, Assange is pretty much ego driven. So no surprise at this, nor at “trying to help” (as in representing Wikileaks as an authority on how to protect gov’t whistleblowers).

              I agree with Yves that Wikileaks is doing more damage than good here. The fact that you can source leaks from various sources & publish them doesn’t mean you’re good at anything else.

  32. Lambert Strether

    I’m, like, totally sure that all the progressives who want Snowden to “grow up” and return to the States for trial will be totally behind him if he does, because of the importance of the issues he raised — as they themselves admit. Exactly as they have been for Bradley Manning and every other whistleblower. Oh, wait….

  33. Bruno Marr


    I haven’t read all the comments, so this may have been covered: Isn’t this Post about Snowdens predicament just as speculative (if not 20/20 hindsight) as the MSM?

    Look, the guy is trying to keep from the clutches of a vicious government that was unapologetic about proxy pirating a Bolivian president! One false step and he’s either dead or in a dungeon. (He knows that; he’s seen the evidence.)

    I’m certain he’s got smart people helping him and that some “misteps” have been made. But NOTHING can be assured; no matter the law! Any of the “players” can give him up at any time!

    Who among us will be in the streets demonstrating for his release from jail if the US gets its hand on him? And that’s not a rhetorical question. I want to know whom is going to put their life on the line like Snowden!!!!

  34. Jackrabbit

    I believe that Yves hoped to have a constructive discussion. This is a blog, not the MSM. She has raised some important questions:

    Are there lessons for other Whistle-blowers?
    1) The nature and extent of Snowden’s disclosures are rather unique.

    2) His strategy of taking his concerns to the people is also very unique.

    3) Angering a hegemonic power makes asylum – which depends on protection of a sovereign nation – difficult to obtain and possibly unreliable. This forces a whistle-blower to find safety in unusual places and from adversaries. Whistle-blowers must take pains to guard their integrity and not let themselves or their actions be defined by their opponents.

    Was the ‘escape’ from HK to Russia ill-advised?
    I don’t have the sense that Snowden was overly reliant on Assange/Wikileaks when making this decision. And he hasn’t expressed any regrets about leaving HK so I think he probably understood that remaining jeopardized his ‘mission’ and/or personal safety.

    Is Snowden making it difficult for powerful people to be supportive?
    I don’t think he has yet taken any steps that could permanently derail their support. And he has consistently and forcefully defended his integrity.

    Also, Snowden’s strategy has been to make his case to the people. I expect that he hopes that powerful individuals will respond to the people, not to him (Snowden).

    Is this too much about Snowden? Shouldn’t the focus be on the spying?
    1) Like it or not Snowden is part of the story.

    2) Yes, we should not lose sight of the spying. And the MSM in particular is guilt of making it too much about Snowden.

    3) Yves has made the point that how Snowden handles this will made a difference to powerful people who can help to change things AND to the possibility of other Whistle-blowers coming forward.

  35. Jackrabbit

    Here’s another possible lesson from Snowden’s predicament:

    Sparking a discussion about spying and security is not enough. People will naturally side on the side of ‘security’, and the MSM turns it into a human interest story.

    The conversation has to be broadened to include the concentration of political power caused by money in politics. This is not easy as it requires ‘connecting the dots’ in a way that is meaningful and accessible.

    I don’t think most people understand how the ‘war on whistle-blowers’, pervasive spying, and politics are interwoven. They have to understand that to really understand the danger of dystopia and how that danger can be effectively addressed.

    Secrecy is corrosive to a free, democratic society. Constitutional checks and balances fail without public scrutiny. Public representatives that are beholden to powerful people/institutions make poor guardians of the public interest.

  36. ToivoS

    This has to be one of the better discussions of Snowden’s dilemma that I have seen. As much as I appreciate Yves’ insight into economics affairs I do think that she has missed a few important details.

    First is that Snowden’s decision to leave Hong Kong was not a mistake. Hong Kong has a degree of autonomy that no other Chniese province has. However, this was carefully negotiated with the central Chinese government and one thing was made clear was that Hong Kong would not have an independent foreign policy. Without doubt Snowden is an international event. His movement from Hong Kong to Moscow was coordinated by the central government. They saw him as a hot potato and somehow convinced the Russians to accept him. It is inconceivable that the Russians were not aware that he was coming. None of us know the details but the decision made by Snowden to leave Hong Kong was not his but had to be something between Peking and Moscow.

    Second, Russia (and China as well) have gained tremendous propaganda value from how this has played out. The US would be willing to spend many billions of dollars to gain such an advantage. Whatever espionage value Snowden has to them has to pale in comparison. The forced landing of Morales airplane has unified most of South America against Obama’s actions. This is a diplomatic fiasco that money cannot buy.

    Third, given the above, international law or Hong Kong law become totally minor concerns compared to the international dynamics that have been set off by the Snowden affair. When it comes to dealing with the US international law is quite meaningless, don’t we all agree. War against Libya or Iraq anyone?

  37. Fiver

    As we don’t know Snowden’s mind or ultimate goal, it’s difficult and somewhat unfair to critique his tactical moves. There are several plausible possibilities set out in the piece and in some other comments, but I’ll just note:

    1) We must acknowledge at the outset that we don’t know if he’s working alone, or is even a genuine whistleblower. Could he be a member of a “rogue patriot” operation within the NSA? Or working for the NSA as Naomi Wolf among others, has wondered aloud? Could this be a trap to snare Greenwald, perhaps Obama’s most effective critic, or something even more devious? And how about a scenario tailored just for terminal Obamabots, in which he is actually working on Obama’s secret orders, Obama being a “good guy” at bottom, trying to get the public to react strongly enough for him to believe he has the political support needed to take these powerful agencies on? Speculation cuts a lot of different ways. But let’s assume he’s alone and genuine.

    2) Snowden contacts Glenn Greenwald, a great writer, Constitutional law expert, and relentless critic of Bush and Obama for criminal abuse of Executive powers.

    3) Snowden/Greenwald/Guardian engage in a political “shock and awe” campaign, biggest blasts first for headline value, the rest good stuff, but nothing quite like “We’ve got every electronic move any of you have ever made – and much more”, a statement the full ramifications of which we’ve not even begun to sort through – and which ought to be our primary concern. Within the context of this piece, though, it is just assumed that the only “advice” Snowden has received is from Wikileaks, while it’s evident that both Greenwald and the Guardian have access to all the resources required to forge a plan with Snowden after Snowden made contact. This cannot be simply dismissed, as Snowden’s interviews with Greenwald were so well done it is plausible to suggest they were repeatedly rehearsed – the reason, in fact, that Wolf cried potential “wolf”. As Greenwald and those at the Guardian know advising or otherwise actively planning with Snowden would obviously be seen as “conspiracy to commit” by the State, and as they knew immediately from Snowden all electronic communications are compromised – including the ability to turn various devices into microphones – the journalists had to decide whether to try to keep some or all discussions, meetings or whatever “secure”, or quite deliberately open to intercept, or a mix.

    4) Greenwald has said he is not afraid personally, because he believes in the Constitution – in essence, that he believes he would win in Court on press freedom grounds of. But does he also think Snowden could win under some set of favorable circumstances? What might those be? What was the ultimate goal for either of them? Did it include a potential game-changer Court case?

    5) I’m sure the US could’ve taken Snowden out in Hong Kong with the assistance of the UK or local hires if need be – as I believe was the fate of journalist Michael Hastings. Still, did he leave because he was scared, or because he already knew his next move? I’m inclined to think both.

    6) The Russian airport gambit actually looks good to me. Putin gave him some very valuable time to regroup, get some rest, and think. The rest of the releases could be prepared. The human rights groups were an optics winner. And of course he’s been working away at gaining asylum, fleshing out strategy going forward.

    7) Having gotten his biggest licks in, the question of what happens if/when he’s caught is considerably more important (for everyone but perhaps Snowden) than a long, media-slobbering chase ending with him somehow getting away – because if he’s caught it’s it all going to the Supreme Court in the end, at least in some form?

    8) Wouldn’t it be smart for him to now move quickly regardless of his choice for final destination, ending this “chase scene” type media coverage, which is overwhelming the coverage of the substance of his efforts, converting the story into a “thriller” rather than the biggest Gauntlet ever thrown to any Admin and the American public? He had to know “escape” was virtually impossible at the outset. I think if he’s genuine, he’ll act according to what’s best for the cause, not his personal skin, and make his move soon.

    9) Again, could the real strategy be to somehow get this to Court on Constitutional grounds? Would Greenwald be right to bet on winning with this Supreme Court? I wouldn’t. In fact, my greatest fear from the start has been that the legacy of this heroic effort could in the end be that these abhorrent Executive power abuses are all given real legality, not the sort based on the President’s lawyers’ opinions and assertions. A true nightmare.

    As I fear this case going to the current Supreme Court would be a devastating loss for the American people and the world, I rather hope he is entirely legit, has accomplished his goal, and simply disappears. That doesn’t mean nothing happens, or that nothing has been gained. Those seeking a reversal of the entire horrific expansion of Executive powers beyond anything considered legitimate by centuries’ worth of law now know the lives of several hundred million people (just domestically) are sitting there in digital records archives. How many monstrous corporate crimes are in there? Wall Street and the banks? How many political shockers? How about the war on drugs? It’s all there. 9/11? Got it. Boston bombers? Got all of it. How about the dozens and dozens of foreign and domestic operations wherein the US had a major role, but has denied it, or released entirely inadequate information. Again, all there.

    Time to turn the tables. The Government can never again respond to public outrage with a “Who knew?” as obviously, they did. There is virtually no issue one can imagine that the information within those files would not be critical for the determination of Government or corporate wrongdoing. Obama et al, who insist living in a fish bowl is no big deal, have inadvertently given the people the means to prove major wrongdoing throughout the Government, Wall Street, boardrooms, the works. Let’s lay it all out, Mr. President. Let’s have a look at all the files, please. Exemptions only mean “don’t look”, not don’t record.

    Mr. President, this fish says either get naked like the rest of us, or find yourselves another tank.

  38. Tom

    Sorry, tried to post this yesterday but site was down. I believe it might be of interest regarding the Russian vs. US position.

    Hi Yves
    I believe Yves is basically right regarding Snowdens mistakes. Although he is hardly to blame. He is to young and had to make all his decisions by himself. He was bound to make mistakes.
    But there are two other things I might add:
    1. The disfunctional nature of the American empire. We know now the NSA has the most intrusive and best electronic surveillance apparatus in the world. But what really astonished me is the fact that Snowden was only working for a subcontractor and had such access. And that there are tens if not hundred of thousands like him. That is the consequence of 30 years of deregulation and outsourcing. To give subcontractors such access means to my mind that it is highly unlikely that there aren´t others who have already done the same like Snowden – albeit for ulterior motives. Therefore I consider it likely that Russia as well as China were already well informed, before Snowden fled.
    2. Concerning Russia and the US I have lived in both. I got to know the US when I was five and went to kindergarten there and have visited it often and Russia even more often. I hope readers forgive me if I believe it possible that Snowden might indeed be right if he compares Russia and the US and the comparison is not in the US´s favor. Here a few measures:
    – In Russia you have neither the level of mental poisoning by commercial TV nor the level of bodily poisoning by food industry that you see in the US. The number of obviously sick and distressed people in any American mall is truly shocking for somebody who comes every few years to the US. You see nothing like that in Russia.
    – In the border regime the two countries seem to have changed roles. Entering the US reminds me of nothing as much as the former USSR. Add to that the equally laughable (because utterly senseless) and reprehensible thuggery on the slightest occasion and I really wonder what has happened. In contrast border Russias procedures are strict but without all that intimidating tam-tam.
    – No matter what the Western press may write, Russia´s internet (and I read Russian) is no more censored than the American. As to Russian press you can purchase everywhere periodicals like Novaya Gaseta that don´t hold anything back. You can do in the US as well but the print runs are incomparable. The Nation doesn´t reach 150 000 with two times the population and Novaya Gaseta prints 500 000 twice weekly. Not that it bothers the Kremlin much. They have already understood that all you need to is control TV. Just like in the US.
    – The numbers of prisoners in Russia is going down and is now below 700 000. Much less per capita than in the US with 2,5 Million. And there is a groundswell of public opposition against police abuse in Russia that last year got so strong that all TV channels couldn´t but report about it and government officials had to promise reform.
    Contrast that with the fact that 150 SWAT raids in the US per day and rampant prison torture (look up AI US report) doesn´t seem to engender much opposition let alone make it onto the most widely used TV channels.
    – Snowden´s case. He was absolutely right to get out of the US. He couldn´t stay and hope to fight it out like Daniel Ellsberg did. And that is a really bad sign for the US and how the country has changed over the years.
    Most likely Snowden should have better stayed in Hongkong than go to Russia.. On the other hand I am also glad he is in Russia for his presence made Russia officially affirm some very important principles. Please remember: Medvedev said they would under no circumstances hand Snowden over to the US as he is threatened by the death penalty. Russia hasn´t executed anybody for 20 years and Medvedevs point is absolutely shared by European public opinion.
    Furthermore and although the Kremlin certainly is no friend of free expression – by sheltering Snowden they at least indirectly acknowledge that there is something very odious in running a vast surveillance machine spying indiscriminately on citizens. These are all stances that were impossible to imagine in the USSR.
    All in all Russia certainly isn´t paradise and certainly no liberal democracy but there is an inescapable logic to the fact that by now it is not Russian dissidents sheltering in the US but rather vice versa.

    1. minh

      It now appears to me that the concern here is by going to Russia, Snowden has reduce the chance of democratic reform of the NSA done from US Congress. Now isn’t that cold war thinking ?

      During your childhood, did you ever found a mistake that your teacher is making on the blackboard for all purpils in the class to see, but only a few of of them saw it ? What’s their reaction ?

      In the democracy game, the US is the teacher, because it’s the oldest continuous one. That doesn’t mean that it can’t make any mistake. Russia, China and Vietnam, even Cuba are now learning the lessons.

      All the purpils now see the teacher, instead of admitting it and smile, trying to make a new theory that fits the error. So now from one big error of 9/11, we see systematic errors that were produced from it. It would be so comical if not so deadly.

    2. Lambert Strether

      Ding ding ding:

      To give subcontractors such access means to my mind that it is highly unlikely that there aren´t others who have already done the same like Snowden – albeit for ulterior motives. Therefore I consider it likely that Russia as well as China were already well informed, before Snowden fled.

      The real issue for The Powers That Be is that Snowden transgressed the unwritten law: Thou Shalt Not Inform The Public.

  39. Bruno Marr

    Well, read Glenn Greenwald’s blog for 15 july 2013. The focus of attention should be the NSA not Snowden’s next (mis)step. And Bozo’s who blame Snowden for not being a more sympathetic figure to the American public are simply pathetic!

    1. Lambert Strether

      You’re an expert in choral singing, then? For myself, I think it’s important to create the conditions for all whistleblowers to succeed, and that includes studying what Snowden does. Alas for all pom pom wavers, that requires critical thinking skills.

  40. TC

    The world’s only superpower? Really? When did Russia dismantle its massive nuclear arsenal?

    Snowden is doing a fine job of provocateur targeting the heavily nuclear armed backbone of resistance to imperialist designs in Southwest Asia. This thing is for the consumption of a numbnut American audience who are being cultivated for another bout of all-out war orchestrated by Venice on the Thames.

    Still waiting for word from Ed on how Building 7 fell at 5:30 in the afternoon in a picture-perfect, demolition-like implosion. I mean he is peddling “secrets” right?

    1. minh

      That’s 5:21 PM not 5:30. Some powerful media force is making Snowden a big megafon to transmit the next bits of information/propaganda/truth that otherwise can’t be heard with all the distractions going on in the MSM. The risk is so high that even Putin must think twice before accept him to Russia as a refugee.

      Lawrence Wilkerson: Never-ending culture of war breeds an ever-growing draconian government, which will pressure more whistleblowers to come forward to stop tyranny

  41. Puma

    How do How do we know what the Hong Kong authorities conveyed to Snowden? He only had a traveler’s visa. While Hong Kong has a lengthy extradition process, they were under no obligation to renew his visa. I read in one source that, although the extradition process could take up to ten years, that he might have ended up spending those ten years in a Hong Kong jail.

    I seem to remember that Snowen initially wanted to go to Iceland. He was probably unaware at the time that Iceland had a newly elected conservative government. Then he wanted to stay in Hong Kong but, again, we don’t know what Hong Kong attorneys conveyed to him about the government’s thinking on the matter.

    Then he fled to Russia, probably with the help of Hong Kong authorities, hoping to travel to Bolivia. It seems like a reasonable move to me. His security in transit was an issue, and it gave him time to analyze the situation. Bolivia started to hedge under threats of economic retaliation. There was also the issue of potential kidnapping in Bolivia.

    Perhaps Russia is his best bet if he didn’t want to end up in a U.S. jail. He was clearly forced into it. Going to a small South American country could have put that country at risk, and Snowden might want to avoid providing incentive and excuse for more active U.S. efforts toward regime change in sympathetic South American countries. And he might have given thought to the suffering of the South American citizens who would be ruthlessly punished by U.S. trade retaliation.

    As to undermining his own cause: It’s Snowden’s decision as to how suicidal he wants to be. He could be a martyr in a U.S. prison, or he can live a fairly normal life in any country that will take him, including Russia. He has computer skills that would be useful to any business or town hall in the world.
    He achieved his stated goal, which was to provide us with proof regarding the magnitude of the surveillance state programs, and to initiate a debate. He never said that he wanted to be a lifelong activist.
    And, if he decides to stay in Russia and live a normal life out of the limelight, it will encourage whistleblowing by showing other whistleblowers around the world that asylum is a viable option.

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