Edward Snowden, phantom of the concourse

NSA leaker Edward Snowden isn’t having much luck finding asylum.  He made a high-profile bid for shelter in that renowned paradise of privacy and free speech, Russia, but has now reportedly withdrawn that request after hearing Moscow’s terms.  One of those terms was set forth by Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, who has been having a high old time making the Obama Administration look weak and foolish, as related by CBS News:

Putin, who hosted a summit of gas-exporting nations in Moscow that included leaders from Venezuela, Bolivia and Iran, said he doesn’t know if any of those attending could offer Snowden shelter.

“If he wants to go somewhere and there are those who would take him, he is welcome to do that,” Putin said. “If he wants to stay here, there is one condition: he must stop his activities aimed at inflicting damage to our American partners, no matter how strange it may sound on my lips.”

Putin added that Snowden doesn’t want to stop his efforts to reveal information about the U.S. surveillance program.

“Just because he feels that he is a human rights defender, rights activist, he doesn’t seem to have an intention to stop such work,” Putin said.

Putin, who had just concluded “high-level” talks with the Obama Administration on the matter of extraditing Snowden, added that “Russia never gives up anyone to anybody, and is not planning to.  And nobody ever gave anyone up to us.”  For good measure, he compared Snowden to famed Russian dissident Andrei Sakharov, and then double-dog-dared President Obama to stick his tongue on a frozen flagpole.

Putin is one of the few world leaders who seems untroubled by Snowden’s revelations of widespread surveillance on both American and foreign citizens.  “It’s none of our business that allies are eavesdropping on each other,” shrugged the old  KGB man.  “Let them do what they want.”

Everyone else is having a full-blown meltdown.  The Germans have been parading around with banners depicting Obama’s face over the legend “Stasi 2.0” and mocking his old campaign slogan with “Yes We Scan!”



A spokesman for German chancellor Angela Merkel compared NSA spying to Cold War skulduggery and declared, “Eavesdropping on friends is unacceptable.”  Putin might have needed a Heimlich squeeze to keep himself from choking with laughter when he heard that.

The French are not taking this well either, according to the UK Independentwhich quotes a French writer delivering the deadly insult that Barack Obama is “worse than the two Bushes put together,” while French president Francois Hollande is threatening to scuttle a major trade deal unless Obama calls a halt to the snooping:

President Hollande has raised the stakes in the bugging row by leading a chorus of protests from France following revelations that its UN mission, and Washington embassy, had been bugged by US intelligence. He called for “guarantees” from the US that the bugging of its allies’ premises had stopped and demanded that spying “stop immediately”.

“We cannot accept this kind of behaviour between partners and allies,” he said. “No negotiations or transactions can be held in all areas until we have these guarantees [that the eavesdropping will stop],” he said.

“That goes for France and for the whole of the European Union, and for all America’s partners.” The EU-US negotiations on the largest-ever free trade pact start in Washington on Monday.

Bowing to these demands wouldn’t do much for the great Obama Legacy Project.  If he makes such concessions to foreign critics, he’ll be giving a lot of ammunition to his domestic critics.

As for Snowden, he can’t find anyplace to run despite – or perhaps because of – the international outrage over his revelations.  This seems to have taken him by surprise.  His effort to flee to Ecuador blew up in spectacular fashion, as President Rafael Correa is said to be so angry over the meddling of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s meddling on Snowden’s behalf that he’s thinking of booting Assange from his perch at the Ecuadoran embassy in London.

Snowden, who has been living at the Moscow airport in a crazy reversed re-imagining of the 2004 Tom Hanks movie The Terminalfired off 20 frantic requests for asylum to various countries.  His best hope seems to be catching a ride with Hugo Chavez’ protege, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, when Maduro returns home from a meeting with Putin.  Maduro sounds generally sympathetic to Snowden, telling Russian reporters, “He did not kill anyone and did not plant a bomb.  What he did was tell a great truth in an effort to prevent wars.  He deserves protection under international and humanitarian law.”

But Maduro wouldn’t formally commit to granting asylum.  Maybe he doesn’t want to get stuck sitting next to Snowden on the long flight from Moscow to Venezuela, because as the statement he released on Monday demonstrates, Snowden is a raging egomaniac.

One week ago I left Hong Kong after it became clear that my freedom and safety were under threat for revealing the truth. My continued liberty has been owed to the efforts of friends new and old, family, and others who I have never met and probably never will. I trusted them with my life and they returned that trust with a faith in me for which I will always be thankful.

On Thursday, President Obama declared before the world that he would not permit any diplomatic “wheeling and dealing” over my case. Yet now it is being reported that after promising not to do so, the President ordered his Vice President to pressure the leaders of nations from which I have requested protection to deny my asylum petitions.

This kind of deception from a world leader is not justice, and neither is the extralegal penalty of exile. These are the old, bad tools of political aggression. Their purpose is to frighten, not me, but those who would come after me.

“The extralegal penalty of exile?”  Is that what they call it when you lie to your boss about needing time off for medical treatment, abandon your family and friends, and secretly flee to Hong Kong?  Far from “exiling” Snowden, the U.S. government would very much like to have him back.  Just ask Vladimir Putin.

For decades the United States of America have been one of the strongest defenders of the human right to seek asylum. Sadly, this right, laid out and voted for by the U.S. in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is now being rejected by the current government of my country. The Obama administration has now adopted the strategy of using citizenship as a weapon. Although I am convicted of nothing, it has unilaterally revoked my passport, leaving me a stateless person. Without any judicial order, the administration now seeks to stop me exercising a basic right. A right that belongs to everybody. The right to seek asylum.

In the end the Obama administration is not afraid of whistleblowers like me, Bradley Manning or Thomas Drake. We are stateless, imprisoned, or powerless. No, the Obama administration is afraid of you. It is afraid of an informed, angry public demanding the constitutional government it was promised ??? and it should be.

I am unbowed in my convictions and impressed at the efforts taken by so many.

If he was really unbowed in his convictions, he would have released the stolen information directly relevant to the privacy of American citizens, while remaining in the United States to face due process for the crimes he unquestionably committed.  That’s how “civil disobedience” works.  Instead, whatever the merits of his original revelations, he’s long since descended into good old-fashioned high-rent espionage, damaging U.S. intelligence operations around the world and threatening more leaks to protect himself from the consequences.

Which leaves us right back at the conundrum that has always surrounded projects like WikiLeaks: our current Administration may be untrustworthy, but the “solution” does not involve transferring final judgment on secrecy and intelligence-gathering to even less accountable, self-appointed hacktivists whose “citizen of the world” delusions of grandeur are even more pronounced than Barack Obama’s.  Particularly since the practical effect of Snowden and Assange’s freelance sabotage is denying secrecy only to the good guys, while the world’s bad actors can scarcely believe their good fortune.  Given Snowden’s weird romantic fantasies about the likes of China, Russia, and Venezuela, he doesn’t seem too concerned about that.

Why should anyone bother giving Snowden asylum and making trouble with the government of the United States, which remains a valuable trading partner?  The Phantom of the Concourse is doing plenty of damage right where he is, at zero cost to those who are enjoying the show.