The Edward Snowden affair
The situation that Edward Snowden, US security service whistle-blower, finds himself in is almost like something out of a Hollywood block-buster where the hero/anti-hero spills the beans on a plot to take over the world by some mysterious group within US security services, goes on the run around the world and finally returns to America, a hero thanked and feted by the American public and their government both. In the cold light of reality, however, the entire US administration, which faithfully represents the American elite only, and all its security services, both public and private, are the ” mysterious group” seeking world domination, and if Snowden returns to his homeland it will be in either chains or a wooden box to the accompaniment of the gloating cheers of the imperialist bloodsuckers who are incensed that he, in the words of the New York Times, ” opened an unprecedented window on the details of surveillance by the NSA, including its compilation of logs of virtually all telephone calls in the United States and its collection of e-mails of foreigners from the major American Internet companies, including Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple and Skype “.
So what caused this young man of just 30 years to throw away, after 10 years in the ‘business,’ a well paid job and promotion prospects with US security contractor, Booz Allen Hamilton, to become an international fugitive?
Snowden, an IT expert, was seconded to the National Security Agency (NSA) and previously the Central Investigation Agency (CIA). In these positions he was privy to some of the spying that was carried out on the US public, foreign governments and their representatives and also the massive trawl (the ‘Prism’ computer programme) for information that is carried out on the internet etc on a world-wide scale (not excluding America) by US security services.
He had initially put his faith in the election of Obama to clean up the worst excesses of the US security industry which, to him, seemed a law unto itself. He came to realise that this faith was misplaced saying: ” Unfortunately, shortly after assuming power, he closed the door on investigating systemic violations of law, deepened and expanded several abusive programs, and refused to spend the political capital to end the kind of human rights violations like we see in Guantánamo, where men still sit without charge .” The Obama administration, since coming to power, has increased the secrecy around the security services and their doings rather than decreased it and Snowden, witnessing that, saw through the illusion of bourgeois democracy that holds sway in the USA, something yet to be achieved by much of the American ‘Left’ who still try to find a reason to support Obama and the Democrats over the Republicans.
To offer some proof of our assertion re the similarity of both main parties in the US and the class that they both represent, and also of the fact that the secrecy has increased, we can cite Glen Greenwald, writing in the Guardian on Saturday 22 June, in which he points out that the punishments for whistle-blowers have reached draconian levels: ” Prior to Barack Obama’s inauguration, there were a grand total of three prosecutions of leakers under the Espionage Act (including the prosecution of Dan Ellsberg by the Nixon DOJ). That’s because the statute is so broad that even the US government has largely refrained from using it. But during the Obama presidency, there are now seven such prosecutions: more than double the number under all prior US presidents combined .”
The increasingly heavy punishments meted out to (the wrong type of) whistle-blowers today can best be explained not so much by the fear of information going to terrorism or even foreign governments, but by the simple fact that 1.4 million Americans hold “top secret” security clearances, and, unless the fear of life imprisonment or death is hanging over them, the security chiefs believe many more of their minions will start releasing revealing information regarding the way that the American public are led by the nose. Once that happens on any large scale, the real threat to the US government and the ruling class that controls it, i.e. the American working classes, will start to get angry, organised, and will start linking up with foreign workers to defeat a common foe. US imperialism is not too stupid to recognise that fact.
At the moment US officials, from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper downwards, are telling Americans not to worry about the Snowden revelations: ‘it’s not that big a deal’ is the line they are taking, pleading with Americans to “trust us” because, they say, they’re keeping US citizens safe. Early polls in America (yes they take polls on everything) suggested that this ploy is still working on many US workers but some of the later polls both in and out of the USA (yes, we also take polls on everything!) such as the one done by Opinium/Observer found that 43% of people believe Snowden has done something “brave and should be heard, not prosecuted” while 23% disagreed. And according to 41% of those respondents Snowden willingly sacrificed himself for the public good. A poll carried out by Rasmussen found 59% of those they questioned are against the data-sucking ‘Prism’ computer programme, with a mere 26% registering themselves in favour of it.
The furore raised on the hill about this leak would, if not such a serious matter, be amusing because, as Glen Greenwald put it, ” The Obama administration leaks classified information continuously. They do it to glorify the President, or manipulate public opinion, or even to help produce a pre-election propaganda film about the Osama bin Laden raid. The Obama administration does not hate unauthorized leaks of classified information. They are more responsible for such leaks than anyone .” Greenwald continues ” What they hate are leaks that embarrass them or expose their wrongdoing. Those are the only kinds of leaks that are prosecuted. It’s a completely one-sided and manipulative abuse of secrecy laws. It’s all designed to ensure that the only information we as citizens can learn is what they want us to learn because it makes them look good .”
So having passed the relevant information about the ‘Prism’ programme on to Guardian journalists to break to the world on Friday 7 June, Snowden made a run for Hong Kong away from the wrath he knew would follow swiftly behind the revelations. At this point the school bully that is US imperialism stamped and screamed in impotent rage and revoked Edward Snowden’s passport while alternately begging and threatening China in order to get their hands on him. John Kerry, the US secretary of state (remember him, the man the imbecile left wanted to beat Bush in a certain election?), speaking in Delhi, expressed his frustration at the fact that the Chinese government had not detained Snowden. ” It would be deeply troubling, obviously, if they had adequate notice, and notwithstanding that, they make the decision wilfully to ignore that and not live by the standards of the law “, he whined – as if US imperialism had ever followed any law but its own self-interest. Snowden had already revealed data to the Guardian about US government-sponsored hacking activities directed against China, and the Chinese media had covered this and all other aspects of Snowden’s revelations, making him a hero figure to the Chinese people. Writing on Weibo, a Chinese social networking site, Wu Fatian, a professor at China University of Political Science and Law, stated “It turns out that Google cannot accept being censored in China, but can tolerate being raped by America.” While in Hong Kong hundreds marched in support of Snowden to the US consulate where they delivered a letter addressed to consul general Steve Young. They also urged the city’s government not to extradite Snowden to the USA.
With the White House insisting that the extradition paperwork it had sent to Hong Kong was in order, Snowden flew to Moscow, leaving Caitlin Hayden, the chief spokeswoman for the National Security Council, to tell the world that the White House was “disappointed” by Hong Kong’s decision not to comply with a request to detain Snowden and to allow him to fly to Russia instead, asserting that he should not have been allowed to leave. The Hong Kong authorities announced Snowden’s departure to Russia, having issued a statement saying that the US extradition request ” failed to comply with legal requirements under Hong Kong law“.
While in China Snowden held a 2-hour live online question &answer session with Guardian readers explaining his reasons for exposing the mass spying on the people of the whole world by US imperialism. He made the point: “I don’t want to live in a society that does these sorts of thing“. When asked why he ran from US law he answered: ” The US government, just as they did with other whistleblowers, immediately and predictably destroyed any possibility of a fair trial at home, openly declaring me guilty of treason and that the disclosure of secret, criminal, and even unconstitutional acts is an unforgivable crime. That’s not justice, and it would be foolish to volunteer yourself to it if you can do more good outside of prison than in it “. Mr Snowden also stated that ” It’s important to bear in mind I’m being called a traitor by men like former vice president Dick Cheney. This is a man who gave us the warrantless wiretapping scheme as a kind of atrocity warm-up on the way to deceitfully engineering a conflict that has killed over 4,400 and maimed nearly 32,000 Americans, as well as leaving over 100,000 Iraqis dead. Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honour you can give an American .”
But is there a difference between whistleblowers and traitors or spies? Of course there is. A traitor would have sold the information he had to a foreign intelligence service for vast sums of money and disappeared totally, not given it to a newspaper for no personal gain at all and followed that up with a two hour Q & A session while on the run. A spy would have stayed at his post and secretly given this information and much more for years to come. Snowden did neither thing. Instead he gave up his well-paid job and his financial future, as well as his comfortable life with his girlfriend in Hawaii, and for what? To let people know, both in America and around the world, just what the US government and its allies are doing to them and what they thought was their privacy.
Isn’t that what every whistleblower does? Why does that merit felony charges under the Espionage Act when what he is doing is bringing to light a massive crime being perpetrated against the people of the world? When the crime is that big and the criminals so powerful, how else does one attempt to bring it to light without coming to a quick and bloody end at the hands of the criminals?
In Britain we have not seen the same amount of coverage of the details of this case as most other countries but that was because our own imperialist masters were also unmasked in these leaks. Snowden revealed that the British secret services had hacked computers and mobile phones at two previous G20 meetings; and this revelation came to light just as many of those same heads of state were sitting down to the latest G8 meeting in Ireland! This caused no little embarrassment for the front office of British imperialism. Snowden’s leaks also implicated GCHQ in the whole sordid ‘listen to the world’ campaign of ultimate control. The answer of the British government was to rush out D-notices (warning against publishing anything that could damage national security) to editors of newspapers and TV news programmes, which no doubt had the effect of keeping some of the details out of our news. Meanwhile the foreign secretary, William Hague, mouthed the same tired old mantra to the effect that GCHQ’s intelligence gathering from phones and online sites ” should not concern people who have nothing to hide“.
On the contrary, this should concern everybody! By September 2013, the NSA’s new data centre, which sits just beyond a residential area in Bluffdale, Utah, will be operational. It will be the largest of several interconnected data centres spread throughout the US and will employ around 200 technicians, occupying a million square feet and using 65 megawatts of power.
Coming back to Edward Snowden’s quest for sanctuary, Ecuador’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño Aroca, announced that the country had received an asylum request from Snowden. While Ecuador has signed a bilateral extradition treaty with the United States, president Rafael Correa quite rightly recognises the priority of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Convention, both of which he quoted when giving asylum to Assange.
Of course, Snowden has not yet reached Ecuador, and the US are now using the same mixture of threats and entreaties against Russia in an attempt to get the Russian authorities to hand Snowden over to them. Russia’s officials, however, have countered that they have no legal authority to detain Snowden. ” The Americans can’t demand anything,” human-rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin told Interfax, saying that as long as Snowden did not leave the Moscow airport’s secure transit area, he was not on Russian soil and could not, therefore, be seized.
A rumour spread among journalists on Monday 24 June that Snowden was booked on a plane from Moscow to Cuba but when the plane left, full of journalists, one seat was empty, Snowden was not aboard. This did not stop an un-named senior Obama administration official from saying ” Mr Snowden’s claim that he is focused on supporting transparency, freedom of the press and protection of individual rights and democracy is belied by the protectors he has potentially chosen: China, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador. ” And further ” His failure to criticise these regimes suggests that his true motive throughout has been to injure the national security of the US, not to advance internet freedom and free speech .” We are quite certain, however, that these remarks are entirely disingenuous: this person realised, but obviously hoped ordinary people didn’t, that if you were trying to evade the grip of US imperialism, you don’t go to countries that are mere puppets of that beast or its partners in crime. To keep out of its claws you have to travel to countries that will not bow to its bullying and cajolery.
Another Russian official has already inferred that Snowden is no longer in Russia adding to the US administration’s chagrin. Wherever he is we can only wish him luck in reaching his destination and look forward to the further revelations re the massive US spy machine that he has promised.