Puttin’ the Pressure on Putin

Exclusive: The Obama administration continues to compound the diplomatic mess around former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The latest blunder was announcing that the U.S. wouldn’t torture or execute Snowden, a reminder to the world how far Official Washington has strayed from civilized behavior, notes ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

The main question now on the fate of truth-teller Edward Snowden is whether Russian President Vladimir Putin will see any benefit in helping stop the United States from further embarrassing itself as it prances around the globe acting like a “pitiful, helpless giant.” That image was coined by President Richard Nixon, who insisted that the giant of America would merit those adjectives if it did not prevail in South Vietnam.

It is no secret that Putin is chuckling as Attorney General Eric Holder and other empty-shirts-cum-corporate-law-office-silk-ties assisted ably by White House spokesperson Jay Carney proceed willy-nilly to transform the Snowden case from a red-faced diplomatic embarrassment for the United States into a huge geopolitical black eye before the rest of the world.

Reminding the planet how out of step the United States has been from most of the civilized world, Holder offered a written promise to the Russians on July 9 (and released on Friday) that Snowden would neither be tortured nor put to death for disclosing secrets about how the National Security Agency has been spying on Americans and pretty much everybody else on Earth.

Holder assured the Russian Justice Minister that the U.S. “would not seek the death penalty for Mr. Snowden should he return to the United States.” Holder also saw fit to reassure his Russian counterpart that, “Mr. Snowden will not be tortured. Torture is unlawful in the United States.” Wow, that’s a relief!

The United States is so refined in its views on human rights that it won’t torture or execute a whistleblower. Of course, that only reminded everyone that the United States is one of the few advanced societies that still puts lots of people to death and was caught just last decade torturing detainees at CIA “black sites,” not to mention the brutal treatment of other prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

And, there was the humiliating treatment afforded another American whistleblower, Private Bradley Manning, whose forced nudity and long periods in solitary confinement during eight months of confinement at the Marine base at Quantico, Virginia, just outside of Washington D.C. prompted international accusations of torture.

Holder’s strange promise may have been designed to undercut Snowden’s bid for asylum, but it also reminded the world of America’s abysmal behavior on human rights. And, even if the United States promises not to torture someone, government lawyers have shown how they can play games with the definition of the term or just outright lie. Holder’s reputation for veracity is just a thin notch above that of National Intelligence Director James Clapper, who admits he has chosen to testify under oath to the “least untruthful” things.

Perhaps no one has told Holder how shockingly out of step with other civilized nations the U.S. finds itself on the issue of capital punishment. Just calling attention to that is a diplomatic gaffe of some proportion. The global trend toward abolition of the death penalty is unmistakable and increasing. The United States even is the outlier on this issue when compared to “brutal” Russia. In Russia, there has been a moratorium on executions since 1996, although it is still technically lawful.

The European Union holds a strong and principled position against the death penalty, and the abolition of capital punishment is a pre-condition for entry into the Union. The U.S. enjoys the dubious distinction of joining a list with China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia as the leaders in executing people.

Closing the Barn Door Too Late

Holder’s high-profile push to get the Russians to hand over Snowden damages the United States in other ways, too, such as reminding the world how the U.S. government has violated the privacy rights of people everywhere, including in allied countries. There is a reasonable argument to be made that the smartest U.S. move would be to simply leave Snowden alone.

Depending on your perspective, Edward Snowden has already done his damage or, in my view, accomplished his patriotic duty of truth-telling demonstrating with documents how the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama have trashed the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Moreover, Snowden apparently had the foresight to handle his revelations in such way that, to the degree there are still more genies about to be let out of the bottle, it will be near impossible to stuff them back in. Indeed, he has said as much, in indicating how easily he can accede to Putin’s condition that he does “no further harm” to the U.S. Snowden has even been specific in acknowledging that he cannot prevent journalist Glenn Greenwald and others from publishing more of the material he made available.

So why the hue and cry from Washington? While the Obama White House has utterly failed to honor Obama’s earlier promises to run a transparent administration, there is one area in which it has been as transparent as Saran Wrap. And that is its fixation with pursuing whistleblowers “to the full extent of the law” … and then some.

The administration has been transparently vindictive, revengeful and determined to exact retribution on “leakers” as a warning to others whose consciences might trouble them enough to reveal war crimes, as Bradley Manning did, or crass violations of our rights as citizens, as Edward Snowden did.

But the recent thrashing around — demanding and cajoling Putin to turn over Snowden — has further made the United States look petulant and inept. Meanwhile, Putin has demonstrated a much more deft touch in handling this delicate international incident.

After making it clear that “we do not extradite,” Putin has had the good sense to put some distance between himself and the Snowden affair. As Secretary of State John Kerry bemoaned (from Saudi Arabia, of all places) about “standards of behavior between sovereign nations,” and (of all things) “respect for the rule of law,” Putin said the issue is simple:

“Should such people [as Snowden] be extradited to be jailed, or not? In any case, I would prefer not to deal with such issues, because this is just the same as shaving a piglet too much noise but too little hair.”

Will Putin Cave?

Do the feckless folks running President Barack Obama’s foreign policy really think they can force Putin to back down? Can they actually believe they can achieve that by putting into play what they apparently consider a diplomatic “nuclear option”? The thinly veiled threat surfaced ten days ago that Obama will snub Putin by canceling their planned tete-a-tete before the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg in September.

Can they possibly think that by pouting, jibing and stamping their feet, they will frighten Putin into “behaving” as obediently as the malleable Italians, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Austrians did when they forced down Bolivian President Evo Morales’s plane for inspection? Morales was en route home from a visit to Russia when someone provided the U.S. with a “tip” that Snowden was hiding on Morales’s plane.

I find myself wondering who provided Washington with that great tip, and whether it is no longer the practice among U.S. intelligence agencies to take rudimentary steps to verify such tips before they let their masters get greasy diplomatic egg all over their faces?

Finally, how many more times does Putin have to say, as he did through his spokesman again Friday that: “Russia has never extradited anyone, and will not extradite [Snowden].”

Months ago, former UK MI5 intelligence officer Annie Machon coined the term “asymmetric extradition law” referring to U.S. policy, which, in the vernacular, might be called “pick-and-choose.” While there is no extradition treaty between the U.S. and Russia, there has been one between the U.S. and Italy for 30 years. Yet, Washington has turned a deaf ear to Italy’s appeals to extradite convicted kidnapper Robert Seldon Lady, former head of the CIA worker bees in Milan where the CIA mounted an “extraordinary rendition” against the Muslim cleric known as Abu Omar off the streets in 2003. Omar was given over to the tender mercies of Egyptian intelligence interrogators.

In 2005, when Lady got a tip that the Italian police were coming for him, he reportedly fled his villa without destroying sensitive files on the CIA’s mission. Italy convicted Lady and 22 other U.S. operatives in absentia and gave them hefty jail sentences. Last December, Italy’s justice minister signed a warrant for Lady’s arrest. On July 18, Lady was identified and detained in Panama, but slipped away the next day on a plane headed toward the U.S.

Few were surprised that Panama was pressured into joining the servile company of the four U.S.-crony European countries that had already embarrassed themselves as accessories to the Washington’s latest Excellent Adventure regarding Evo Morales’s plane a fiasco code-named OARR (for Operation Airline Rest Room) after the suspected place where Snowden was believed stowed away.

But when it came to extraditing a convicted kidnapper from Panama to Italy? Puleeze. Great powers don’t have to do that kind of thing, treaty or not. Except for Russia, you see. Moscow must surrender Snowden, even absent a U.S.-Russia extradition treaty. And Putin should understand that, no?

It must have been that kind of superpower-think that prompted Jay Carney on July 12 to add insult to injury, as he jibed at the Russian government to “afford human rights organizations the ability to do their work in Russia throughout Russia, not just at the Moscow transit lounge.” That kind of comment is sure to endear the White House to the Kremlin.

Vladimir Volokh, head of the Russian Migration Service, seemed to welcome a chance to retaliate in kind. Rubbing in the awkwardness of Snowden’s present status because of actions by Washington, Volokh told the Interfax news agency Friday: “We know that he is Edward Snowden only from his words. The passport he has has been canceled. … He is under protection in the transit area for his safety.  He is an individual being pursued and his life is in danger.”

The Russians, and pretty much everyone else, are smart enough to realize that, given Washington’s transparent motives, there is nothing to be gained by serving Snowden up to American “justice,” such as it has become. Russia is no banana republic, so it beggars belief that President Putin will follow the supine example of Panama. Nor is the fawning example of Italy, France, Spain and Portugal something Putin would wish to emulate.

Russian History

Scholars of Russian history make an important point that is relevant here: it is Russia’s deeply embedded inferiority complex vis-à-vis the West. Recite to Vladimir Putin the familiar adage, “Scratch the Russian and find the Tatar,” and see what happens.

In short, while Europe was coming out of the Dark Ages into the Renaissance, the Russians were for more than two centuries under the likes of Genghis Khan and his hordes a period the Russians call the “Tatar Yoke.” This reality had very serious consequences and is deeply embedded in the Russian consciousness. In a sense, the Russians have been playing catch-up ball ever since.

Their struggle seems never ending, but now and again they reach high ground. L’Affaire Snowden is one of those “nows.” Russia occupies the high moral ground, helped immeasurably by the behavior of the Bush and Obama administrations, which have squandered the moral advantage the U.S. used to enjoy.

Worse still, from President Obama’s perspective, there is little leverage he can bring to bear on the Russian Bear. If Putin thought Obama was really running things in Washington, he might try to barter Snowden’s freedom for some significant concession. But Moscow is not likely to believe Obama could deliver on any such concession, and Russian officials are probably right.

Obama, Holder, Carney and the rest would be well advised not to push any more geopolitical chips onto the table in a risky bet on winning back Snowden. Russia has the better cards on this one, and it is a mark of realism, as well as intelligence, to recognize “when to fold them.”

Otherwise, and particularly if Putin keeps seeing the pastel-tie empty suits pontificating on how Russia must do its duty in surrendering Edward Snowden, there is a chance we may see Putin take Snowden to asylum in Latin America on his own plane, overflying Austria, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal and Panama en route.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. His graduate degree is in Russian history, which served him well as a Soviet analyst during the first decade of his 27-year tenure at the CIA.  He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

24 comments for “Puttin’ the Pressure on Putin

  1. Egla
    August 2, 2013 at 13:15

    Do you want to har about democracy in US? Here is my story:
    It is hard to describe all what had happened with me, but I will try to give a summary.
    I came here from Albania since 2003 and became a USA citizen in 2008. Back in Albania, I was a high school teacher for 15-years and decided to come here in Florida after I won the American lottery, hopping for a better healthcare. Unfortunately, I never received the help I hopped and deserved, and never received the possibility for the right teaching position even after passing the most of the teacher certification tests. In the contrary, I ended up a victim of discrimination and sexual harassment.

    For 10-years, I have been seeking help for my medical condition through a considerable number of doctors, and none of them had given me the right medication, which I know for sure, it is given to the other patients with the same condition. Not only that, but they are trying to harm me. Dr. John Peterson intentionally gave me a medication for a long time that caused me liver cancer. Dr. Anil Raiker gave me Iron that was totally against the condition, and performed an unnecessary Bone Marrow test to me. Trying to protect each other even in some cases that I have been hospitalized not only I did not receive any treatment, but from the excessive x-rays and other unnecessary products I ended up with fibrosis. Last time I was in the hospital at North Side Hospital, I had to decline a lot of their attempt to harm me. I wrote to their Board and never received any response. I do not know where to go anymore…

    Even in that condition, I did not miss an unusual sexual harassment in the workplace. The case for which I am writing took place initially at “Amscot” where I was working as a tax prepare in 2006.The guy named Robert Bearce was District Manager there. But it got worst at “North Shore Elementary” where I worked as a teacher assistant after the Amscot. All my colleagues there constantly harassed me with unimagined actions including the students too, for which I would never believe if it did not happened to me. After confronting them a couple of time, at the end they engaged a student to hurt my daughter, which was going to the same school. Under the terrible pressure, I decided to quit.
    It did not help. They never stopped bothering me. A month later, they involved me in a car crash from which I suffered many injuries. The police were involved. They changed all the information of the scene of the accident including the name and age of the driver.
    After that day, they have been after me, threatening and keeping every move of mine under control. And not only the police. My friends, my neighbors have been manipulated. My reputation has been destroyed and my life is under surveillance and in danger.
    I am under constant harassment, threats and warnings. The roads always have been a hazard to me. The police helicopters are flying above my house constantly, terrorizing us.

    Even the FBI has been involved. They have sent me a numerous threats and warnings through my email. I believe they have organized some shameful crimes including the death of my brother in Greece and my dad in Albania and, the accident of my uncle in Albania.

    After their trying for other accidents in the road and using drugs on me by the dentist where I have been to, lately they are using the food and the water. Putting all kind of drugs in different kind of food in order to give me mental problems, adding potassium to the milk and other dairy products, adding iron to the most of products made from flour. Even the Ecotrine the medicine that I am taking, gave me signs of heart attack and I had to stop taking it.

    I have tried a numerous of lawyers, but without help. I contacted the Mayer’s office, emailed the Governor of FL and the Attorney General, even the State Prosecutor. No luck!

    My daughters are terrorized and under a lot of pressure too.

    During my years of teaching, I always taught my students about the lessons of life and integrity besides Math and, never thought I would be a victim myself.
    These people do not have the right to take my life, my dignity away by using their power and their social or professional position. It is against every human right.

  2. scott k
    July 31, 2013 at 17:40

    As always a superior analysis Ray, on this giving subject and I can only imagine Putin’s big belly laugh when he read Holder’s letter.

  3. janet abbey
    July 31, 2013 at 01:05

    Wonderful hard hitting analysis of the US “losing face” all over the world. Keep it up Obama I just love it.

  4. Ben
    July 29, 2013 at 23:35

    Most of the outrage I see is from older folks. People my age (early 20s) don’t really care about Holder’s “shocking” promise not to pursue the death penalty against Snowden(I took that to mean Snowden will not be tried as a traitor). However, polls may show otherwise.

    • Chris beahl
      July 30, 2013 at 06:20

      Speak for yourself, not everyone else between the ages of 20 and 30. You took Holders promise to mean basically what he was trying to say. However, your missing the bigger picture which should make you wonder why such a promise even needs to be made. The fact that Holder made such a rash statement, not only makes the administration itself seem foolish, but it should make Snowden say fuck that I never wish to return to such a place. Let alone the fact that for Putin to comply the way they want him to, the US is gonna have to do more than move their pawn up one space, leave their finger resting on top, and then change their mind and pull it back to its original location.

  5. Martin Gugino
    July 29, 2013 at 00:06

    A close reading shows that Holder does not disclaim the right to extra-ordinary rendition. And, and, is pulling out finger nails torture, or is it enhanced interrogation? And does the Constitution apply in Cuba? Or on the High Seas? Or in the air over international waters. Or in outer space? There are varying opinions on this. Or in DC.

  6. rosemerry
    July 28, 2013 at 16:42

    Not only does the USA torture foreigners and use the death penalty on its citizens, but it tortures in prisons all over the USA, including keeping prisoners in solitary confinement for decades. “Crimes” in the USA include so many private behaviours like drug use, and are concentrated on poor, black and brown youths, who are assumed, like Trayvon Martin, to be a danger. It is good that the world sees not only Snowden’s revelations, but their truth being demonstrated by the frantic Obama administration.

  7. TheAZCowBoy
    July 28, 2013 at 15:07

    Life under AmeriKKKa’s ‘STAZI’ has convinced me that the German people were held hostage by the Nazis. I always felt they were compliant war criminals also.

    Much as the American people are being victimized by these ‘ghouls’ that have high-jacked the US government. Though I see a few zealots (GOPeer’s mostly) quite the willing ‘victims.’

    As we see the Russian and Chinese helping to keep the UNITED SNAKES (US/Israel/NATO) from declaring a full fludged war against Assad (and (((pushing))) against WW III with their veto’s) I begin to realize that our cold war enemies may be todays ‘peace makers.’

  8. bobzz
    July 28, 2013 at 14:44

    I wonder. Could Snowden be the source of the tip that he was on Morales’ plane? He could have been testing the water to see what Obama if he were on a plane. I would have done that, and I would have my answer. Obama is Bush redivivus.

    • bobzz
      July 28, 2013 at 20:11

      that is “what Obama would do”

  9. Arzu Djaouani
    July 28, 2013 at 14:41

    Zimmerman killed an unarmed teenager and he is free..US says no death penalty, no torture for Ed but it probably will be life sentence or Edward has done nothing wrong. Mr. Putin keep him in Russia. Offer him asylum he deserves.

  10. John Cliff
    July 28, 2013 at 14:11

    One aspect of the whole Snowden/NSA debacle I still find curious is how a single individual working for an outside contractor was able to access such embarrassing information. If the NSA makes its ‘secrets’ so freely available, what on earth is the US security apparatus complaining about?

    • F. G. Sanford
      July 29, 2013 at 02:58

      There are two aspects of your observation to consider:
      1. Most of the people in administrative positions running these computerized spying operations don’t actually know much about computers- they ate at the mercy of IT technicians like Snowden.
      2. He almost certainly had help on the inside, and they are foaming at the mouth to find out who it was.

  11. Regina Schulte
    July 28, 2013 at 13:44

    I can only thank Ray McGovern for sharing with us his analysis of this
    situation and his clear-sighted vision into the sordid reputation the United
    States has earned in this and the previous administration’s policies and
    behaviors. My gratitude, Mr. McGovern, and my compliments for the excellent
    literary quality you bring to your writing.

  12. Alkex Seredin
    July 28, 2013 at 11:42

    Being of Russian/Tatar extraction I take exception of your opinion that Tatars have “held back” Russia’s entry into “cultured” Europe. At the time mentioned majority of Europeans were barbarians and could not even ride a horse properly, it is Tatars who taught Europeans modern warfare, stealth in battle and resilience, which today remains as a quality of Russian and Ukrainian cossacks.

    • TheAZCowBoy
      July 28, 2013 at 15:15

      ‘Were barbarians?!!!

      As the bankrupt regurgitated oil/gas thieven colonists begin to ‘sink into the sunset’ the UNITED SNAKES (US/NATO) finally rcognize that they are ‘sinking’ into the sunset’ and fast!

  13. harold burbank
    July 28, 2013 at 10:17

    thanks ray. you better than anyone i know understands how this kind of ‘diplomacy’ will pan out and who really runs the usa government (not the people, and not those we elect). so far i see no good reason to doubt snowden is who says he is and is motivated for public good as he claims. given the overwhelming facts of nsa spying and attendant constitutional violations, i would need compelling evidence to doubt his sincerity. as to where he should take refuge, he is safest where he is, in russia, for all of the reasons you said. even israel and the usa cannot walk willy nilly into a russian safe haven and harm anyone without at least very serious repercussions, and probably complete failure. that is why snowden should stay in russia for as long as possible, and i hope permanently, at least until the american people get accountability (read prison sentences) for government actors breaking the law in the snowden case; which may be impossible for a very long time yet. so thank God for the russians here. they have the political power, i think the interest, and i hope the will, to tell obama et al to stuff it until the usa does something of substance to reform the abuses snowden has revealed, and protect snowden and others who seek justice for us all.

  14. charles sereno
    July 28, 2013 at 09:07

    Ray, you wield a gentle stiletto. Yes, Lady was no lady and Panama just another nation of negotiable affection.

  15. F. G. Sanford
    July 28, 2013 at 08:30

    Some have posited that Snowden is actually a double, or perhaps even a triple agent. The combinations and permutations of the possible scenarios and strategies behind these conclusions have been speculated about at length. Take a good look at what is happening on the world stage right now. Correspondents and pundits have wrangled with interpretations of the foreign policy strategies and methodologies, both official and clandestine, which have been brought to bear as these scenarios play out, or unravel, depending on your point of view.

    One analyst notes, “If the Obama administration actually believes that Syria is a clash between a dictator and his oppressed population, we’re all [in a great deal of trouble]”. Another notes that inclusion of Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk in Kerry’s peace initiative will insure more fruitless negotiations allowing settlement expansion to continue under a diplomatic smokescreen. Ben Rhodes, variously described as clueless, feckless, incompetent, biased and owned by the lobby appears to be one of the trusted policy gurus guiding the administration along with “think tanks” such as WINEP. Could it be that Obama, like Snowden, is smarter than his “handlers”?

    Though Obama supporters may wince at the truth, his most ardent supporters in all things defense, intelligence and foreign policy related are the Republicans, with the likes of John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Peter King and Dana Rohrbacher at the top of the list. In fact, the more lunatic right-wing Christian rapture fanatic their constituency happens to be, the more they tend to support what has essentially become the refined essence of Bush era policies. Anti-Semite Christian rapture mongers and delusional right-wing Neocon war mongers (unlikely bedfellows indeed!) are still calling the shots.

    Many of us saw in President Obama a progressive reformer who might have been able to achieve sweeping “change we could believe in”. Dismantling the paranoid surveillance state, peace in the Middle East, racial parity in domestic affairs, an end to frivolous military adventures and an economic environment cleansed of Wall Street cannibalism all seemed on the horizon. But could he have bucked the system through conventional means? Sun Tzu might have said, “If the enemy relies on wagons, bait him to advance when the roads are muddy”. That can be accomplished by strategic retreat. Today, we say, “Give them enough rope, they’ll hang themselves”.

    The current “peace process” as it is currently being strategically mismanaged will enhance the expansion of settlements. This will achieve the transition from ‘de facto’ apartheid to ‘de jure’ apartheid, ultimately delegitimizing Israel as a democracy. World opinion will triumph where reason, common sense and international law could not. Meddling in the affairs of governments from Afghanistan to Iraq to Libya to Egypt to Somalia to Syria has led to one bloody catastrophe after another. Many warned, but no one heeded. The “rebels” are losing, and the alternative is to sponsor terrorists. The mask has been torn from the face of the Empire, and its dissolution is approaching critical velocity. Snowden has played a crucial role. Given the rope it demands, the unfettered abuses of Empire accelerate exponentially. If Snowden is a double agent, his handlers would be constrained to pursue him viciously, at least for public consumption. If he’s not, it does Obama little harm to posture for the right-wing loonies. And, my guess is, deep deep down, neither he nor Putin are particularly concerned about it. Both of them are playing, “Wait and see.” Let’s hope the Empire doesn’t turn on us in the meantime.

  16. richard bittner
    July 28, 2013 at 06:25

    What would you rather do?…swim with sharks….or be in the clutches of Prresident Putin…??

  17. richard bittner
    July 28, 2013 at 06:16

    Any question regarding the effectiveness of the domestic employmentment of the dragnet PRISM spy program has been rendered moot by the disclosure of it’s existence. The continued use of the PRISM spy program.
    Has only one effective target; THE AMERICAN PEOPLE.

  18. William
    July 28, 2013 at 05:53

    The Elephant in the room is 9/11. The evidence > http://video.cpt12.org/video/2270078138/
    The facts surrounding this event point to an explanation not represented in the ‘official report’ .
    Do you have the courage to write about it? It’s the reason for the Patriot Act. Enough people now know that it was an ‘inside job’. It’s commonly seen as such in Europe, Asia and South America. That’s because the facts show that it was. There are so many smoking guns here. Will you pick up the challenge and get to the root of the matter?

    • rosemerry
      July 28, 2013 at 16:35


  19. Ronald Thomas West
    July 28, 2013 at 05:00

    Nice one Ray. Snowden’s legal team might have better pointed out how the ‘state secrets’ and ‘national security’ doctrines have been routinely and widely used to frustrate justice in the USA civilian courts where judges are inclined to rubber stamp the positions of the DoJ, and the fact almost beyond any doubt Snowden would be denied discovery rights and disallowed lines of testimony where color of law trumps constitutional principles as a matter of routine in today’s American system of ‘justice.’

    And the it could not hurt to point out Holder’s not only shielding Bush international criminals from prosecutions but as well, Holder’s hands on involvement with covering the identities of the Chiquita executives who’d forked over a million and a half in cash and thrown in machine guns, all delivered to the designated terrorist group AUC that went on to use this largesse to murder approximately 4,000 union sympathetic people in Colombia… all points on the rule of law that could be well taken

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