Why Snowden’s Fate Matters

Exclusive: There’s an old saying that a reporter is only as good as his sources, meaning that there’s a need for people inside government who see wrongdoing to speak up. It is also a test of a democratic Republic whether truth-tellers like Edward Snowden are appreciated or persecuted, ex-intelligence analyst Elizabeth Murray notes.

By Elizabeth Murray

As he lingers in the “twilight zone” of the transit area in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, the future of U.S. whistleblower Edward J. Snowden hangs in the balance. Lobbying in the form of a personal phone call by Vice President Joseph Biden appears to have cooled Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa’s initial receptivity to the prospect of granting Snowden’s request for asylum.

Snowden now plans to request asylum from a number of other countries, including Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, and Venezuela. Russian President Vladimir Putin already issued an ambiguous, noncommittal response to Snowden’s request, indicating his preferencefor Snowden to find another host country, although he reiterated that Russia would not extradite Snowden to the United States. It’s clear that any country that accepts Snowden’s asylum bid will come under tremendous political pressure and risk the wrath of Official Washington.

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa.

Whatever fate awaits the young American whistleblower — who recently turned 30 and who sacrificed a comfortable upper-middle class lifestyle to disclose the NSA’s expansive and arguably criminal clandestine telecommunications monitoring network which spies on the private communications of people the world over — his selfless public act of truth-telling will have left an indelible mark on the world.

The far-reaching scope of the NSA’s infringement on private communications has stunned and enraged U.S. friends and foes alike; foreign governments and their publics are now insisting on accountability from Washington — as are some U.S. congressmen and senators. Snowden has put in train a series of actions that could eventually rein in these abuses.

As the New York Times columnist Roger Cohen noted in his June 27 column, if Snowden had not taken his courageous step, “we would not know how the N.S.A., through its Prism and other programs, has become, in the words of my colleagues James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, ‘the virtual landlord of the digital assets of Americans and foreigners alike.’ We would not know how it has been able to access the e-mails or Facebook accounts or videos of citizens across the world; nor how it has secretly acquired the phone records of millions of Americans; nor how through requests to the compliant and secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (F.I.S.A.) it has been able to bend nine U.S. Internet companies to its demands for access to clients’ digital information.

“We would not be debating whether the United States really should have turned surveillance into big business, offering data-mining contracts to the likes of Booz Allen and, in the process, high-level security clearance to myriad folk who probably should not have it. We would not have a serious debate at last between Europeans, with their more stringent views on privacy, and Americans about where the proper balance between freedom and security lies.

“We would not have legislation to bolster privacy safeguards and require more oversight introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Nor would we have a letter from two Democrats to the N.S.A. director, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, saying that a government fact sheet about surveillance abroad ‘contains an inaccurate statement’ (and where does that assertion leave Alexander’s claims of the effectiveness and necessity of Prism?).

“In short, a long-overdue debate about what the U.S. government does and does not do in the name of post-9/11 security — the standards applied in the F.I.S.A. court, the safeguards and oversight surrounding it and the Prism program, the protection of civil liberties against the devouring appetites of intelligence agencies armed with new data-crunching technology — would not have occurred, at least not now.”

The appreciation for Snowden’s courageous endeavor spread across the globe. “The world will remember Edward Snowden,” declared the South China Morning Post on June 25. “It was his fearlessness that tore off Washington’s sanctimonious mask.” But is there a country that will be remembered by history for being fearless enough to offer Snowden asylum?

Prior to Vice President Biden’s phone conversation with Ecuadorean President Correa (one has to wonder what sorts of carrots or sticks the U.S. offered Correa that resulted in the Ecuadorean leader’s change of heart), Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño conducted an extraordinary press conference in Hanoi, Vietnam, on June 24. He delivered the address in Spanish, and it appears to have received little media coverage beyond an English translation of the text of Snowden’s letter requesting asylum.

–After reading out the text of Snowden’s asylum request, Patiño discussed how Ecuador reveres the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, upon which it bases its Constitution.

–He also stated that, unlike other states, Ecuador places these fundamental principles ahead of any interests or possible political pressures.

–Patiño added it was a paradox that the person shining a light on U.S. misdeeds that violated of the rights of people the world over was the one being persecuted, rather than those guilty of committing mass espionage on private citizens and governments being punished.

–Snowden, Patiño noted, was being cast as a traitor.  However, the foreign minister wondered whether the concept of treason in this case referred to a betrayal of the power elite rather than a betrayal of the American people, whose rights had been violated.

–Patiño said Ecuador has laws that shield the confidentiality of news sources, including whistleblowers, and that such protections were vital for those who had knowledge of crimes and wrongdoing, so that they could freely expose them and thus prevent future crimes.

–Patiño remarked that, as the war on Iraq was based on lies, it would have been extremely valuable if a whistleblower had spoken out prior to the start of the Iraq war since this might have saved many thousands of lives.

–Finally, he promised that Ecuador would carefully study and consider Snowden’s asylum request.

Will Ecuador’s actions back up the words of Foreign Minister Patiño? Having previously provided political asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, President Correa has shown that he possesses uncommon courage and leadership. It would be a shame to see Ecuador — which prides itself on being an independent Latin American country that has repudiated the status of a banana republic — buckle so soon under U.S. pressure.

As China’s Global Times newspaper wrote upon Snowden’s departure from Hong Kong: “We wish Snowden good luck in this difficult time. His personal fate will reflect the game between U.S. hegemony and global pursuit for fairness and justice.”

What happens next also will be a test of whether America’s democratic Republic retains the necessary respect for civic courage, which can be defined as putting one’s own welfare aside for the benefit of the larger society, a prerequisite for this form of government which is by, of and for the people.

Or as WikiLeaks tweeted on June 30, in response to a tweet wondering whether Christians ought to support whistleblowers Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning and Julian Assange: “For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light.”(Mark 4:22)

Elizabeth Murray served as Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East in the National Intelligence Council before retiring after a 27-year career in the U.S. government, where she specialized in Middle Eastern political and media analysis. She is a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

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15 comments on “Why Snowden’s Fate Matters

  1. Dennis Berube on said:

    I’m sorry but this is rubbish. Snowden did not reveal anything that anyone who paid attention did not already know. He revealed nothing about 9/11 or how the “Arab Spring” was basically a CIA operation from the beginning. Most importantly, too many real whistle blowers never get any press and sometimes have bigger problems (ie. Michael Hastings, Gary Webb). Only fakes are instant media stars like Snowden, Assange and Woodward.
    Even worse, Snowden has said that all whistleblowers should be killed. He joined the military to fight in Iraq to kill people so they could have “freedom”. This is another black op. Again, how could anyone seriously have not known that their phone, email, facebook and generally anything on the internet was not intercepted prior to Snowden? James Bamford didn’t become a media star and he wrote about all of this years ago, as did others.

    • charles sereno on said:

      I’m against name-calling and for reasoned argument. EXCEPT for an obvious troll like you who deserves minimal attention.

      • loretta on said:

        Sorry–where was the “name calling” in that post?

        • charles sereno on said:

          Try the 1st sentence.

          • Craig on said:

            Charles, the commenter called no one a name unlike you who called him a “troll”. He called the editorial “rubbish”, which was accurate. The fact is that Snowden, by his own admission, infiltrated the NSA contractor with the purpose of gathering classified info…stole documents that he put on his laptop…and then turned over his laptop to two totalitarian governments, China and Russia. How is that not treason? If he were a whistleblower he could have done what he did and face the music here at home. He chose a different course and will more than likely suffer the consequences for the rest of his life as is justified.

          • Chris Herz on said:

            It is impossible to commit treason against a rogue and illegitimate regime like the corporate state that has usurped a once-Great Republic.

  2. charles sereno on said:

    Sorry, Craig. You say the commenter called the editorial “rubbish.” The editorial is “no one.” A tale of Ulysses.

    • Kevin Schmidt on said:

      Craig was referring to himself only.
      To those of you who could not comprehend the true meaning of his words, I have to say that illiteracy still runs rampant within the US.

  3. shill on said:

    Snowden will either be assassinated outright, meet with a fatal “accident,” or be captured by one of the agencies presently out in force looking to get their hands on him (regardless of what Mr. Obama says about not wasting a lot of time trying to locate a mere “hacker.”) If captured, he will then be brought back to the U.S. for a “fair trial” and summarily will be sentenced to death, to Guantanamo, or to some other prison hellhole, probably for life under “espionage” charges. Then the government will continue the Patriot Act and all of the other intrusions into our lives put into place since 9/11 by the Bush/Cheney regime and continued under the present administration. Meanwhile, most of the American people will go about their daily routines and lives blissfully unaware (and not really caring TOO much) about what their government has done to the freedoms and rights guaranteed to them under what Mr. Bush 2 once said was, “Just a goddamned piece of paper,” the U.S. Constitution. After all, the mainstream media is only writing and reporting about, “Where’s Edward?” instead of the monumental government wrongdoing. How things have changed since Watergate!

  4. darcanto on said:

    Indeed, Snowden hasn’t revealed anything that an alert person didn’t know already. Any new revelations will not be a surprise to me and many others. Here’s why his revelations are still very important. When you talk to someone about what the CIA, NSA, and FBI have been doing, you get called a “conspiracy theorist/nut”. Without convincing proof, you get dismissed. It’s happened to me several times this year already.

    Snowden has provided the proof. The fig leaf is gone. I (and many others) now appear to be somewhat less of a nut. The big boys know that this is dangerous if it becomes common coin – and they are right. Deniability is their greatest asset.

    That’s why they have resorted to the only tool they have left when faced with undeniable truth – smearing the truthtellers. It’s amusing that so many chin waggers on the left have been happy to pile it on Glenn Greenwald – thus serving to deflect attention away from where it belongs.

    It’s pathetic, too.

  5. F. G. Sanford on said:

    For those of you who don’t recognize or are not aware, the comment that nominates the article as “rubbish” is based on a nicely paraphrased eliteration of Webster Tarpley’s analysis. In fact, it’s so faithful to the source, it’s almost plagiarism. Don’t misunderstand: I don’t mean to defend or criticize Tarpley. I find him reliably entertaining. That said, Tarpley is quite the name-caller himself: “Snow-job Snowden”, “Skull and Bones Kerry”, “Gnome Chomsky”, “Little Rand Paul”, Ron “The Leprechaun” Paul, etc. My favorite is “sneering plutocrats”. Keep in mind that if any of the “analysts” of this genre had any real insight into “secret stuff”, and if the “rogue elements of the shadow government” really did go rogue, people like Tarpley, Jeff Rense, Alex Jones, Wayne Madsen and a host of others would be rounded up and shipped off to Guantanawitz or Dachaunamo in a New York minute. That they’re still running around loose confirms that they’re probably wrong.

    Despite my skepticism for conspiracy theories, recall that four people were hanged, three sentenced to life in prison and scores of others arrested and jailed for varying periods for their participation in the CONSPIRACY to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. So…where does that leave us in relation to the significance of the Snowden affair? If we follow Tarpley’s reasoning, it’s the pattern that provides the analytical framework more than the ginned up facts swirling around the controversy. If I may, let me provide a little pattern of facts that make me REALLY suspicious. People like Diane Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi, Hillary “Freedom of Connectivity” Clinton and Chuck Schumer have sided with staunch right wing conservatives and champions of authoritarianism like Peter King. Why would that be?

    When I was a kid, there were three books we all had to read in English class: “Animal Farm”, “Brave New World” and 1984. “Gulliver’s Travels” was sprinkled in there someplace, and mind you, this was an American public school. Back then, any American Patriot would have acknowledged that this kind of surveillance would have been roundly rejected by both parties if for no other reason than it’s potential to be exploited by political opponents. Suspicions of Hoover’s propensity for blackmail were rife. And, we know that Johnson’s wiretaps revealed Anna Chennault’s efforts on behalf of Nixon to subvert the election of Humphrey. We also know that Nixon employed wiretaps during the Watergate era. Both sides recognized the repugnance of these tactics, and resorted to them cautiously.

    I kinda like Paul Craig Roberts’ take on the hypocrisy of these self-proclaimed guardians of Civil Liberties. Are they brainwashed…or blackmailed? Some of these programs were kicked off at a time when conservative Neocon hubris held the notion that Republicans would never again lose control of the Executive or the Legislative, and they worked diligently to stack the Judicial in their favor. Why then, would Democrats embrace the same schemes? It only makes sense if we allow that there are no longer two or more independent political parties. There is only the illusion of choice between opponents whose strings are pulled by the same corporate entities on both sides of the phony duopoly. Nothing else explains why they would abandon their party’s legacy only to embrace with open arms a program that would have been mutually repugnant to BOTH parties a generation ago. We don’t have a rogue state/shadow government yet. But I bet J. Edgar Hoover would seethe with envy if he could see this brave, new world.

  6. Frank Newman on said:

    The Shoes are still dropping. The NYT just published an article that shows that the Postal Service has been photo copying the front and back of all letters that move through the US Mail. The apologists for the NSA snooping point out that most Americans willingly give up their personal secrets on such places as Facebook. There is a drastic difference between willingly giving up information and the Government stealing it. That James Clapper was willing to lie through his teeth to Congress and then was outed by Snowden’s information shows the potential dangers to US foreign policy. Can we trust that they haven’t lied about the Sarin Gas in Syria. It’s starting to remind me of the willingness of the CIA ten years ago to lie and Iraq happened. PS: There are trolls posting here for the NSA, quite like trolls that show up from AIPAC.

  7. Rick on said:

    It’s quite clear that we as a country are headed for some very very dangerous times. All one has to do is look back in history to see what effect public spying and personal information theft by a government can do to a country and it’s people. Our government is too large, needs to lose weight and I mean a lot.

    And….do not forget this point, who believes that the President is not being spied upon also!

    God help America!

  8. michael on said:

    Ecuador will not be offering asylum to Mr Snowden. Ecuador needs foreign trade very badly, being cash-short in the face of its needs.

    The US is currently considering renewal of a very important trade agreement with Ecuador. That was certainly the gist of Joe Biden’s conversation with Sr Correa. So a decision to offer asylum would be a billion dollar mistake.

  9. Nate Picker on said:

    Remarkable that Ecuador is held up as defenders of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. President Correa and his supporters routinely intimidate the press and stifle opposition.

    http://www.journeyman.tv/64316/short-films/double-standards.html