Clarifying Snowden’s ‘Freedom’

A common angle from the mainstream U.S. media is that NSA leaker Edward Snowden will regret his asylum in Russia (rather than life in prison in the U.S.). A quote from ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern was used in support of that theme, but he has asked the New York Times to clarify it.

By Ray McGovern (addressing the New York Times editors)

I was quoted in Steven Lee Myers’s “In Shadows, Hints of a Life and Even a Job for Snowden,” published by the New York Times on Oct. 31, as saying (about former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden), “He’s free, but not completely free” in asylum in Russia.

An unfortunate juxtaposition in the text of Mr. Myers’s piece has led several acquaintances to misinterpret my words. I trust you will agree that the issue is of some importance; thus, my request that you publish this clarification.

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden speaking in Moscow on Oct. 9, 2013, after receiving an award from an organization of former U.S. intelligence officials. (From a video posted by WikiLeaks)

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden speaking in Moscow on Oct. 9, 2013, after receiving an award from an organization of former U.S. intelligence officials. (From a video posted by WikiLeaks)

Mr. Myers quotes me correctly. Unfortunately, the immediately preceding sentences quote a Russian journalist, who “cautioned” that the appearance of a “happy, open asylum” could be “propaganda,” and that the Russian security services might be waiting to question Mr. Snowden until he becomes “increasingly dependent on them.”

This is not at all what I meant by “not completely free.” For starters, I guess I’m not sure how free you can feel being stateless, the State Department having revoked your passport.

Still more on this issue emerged on Oct. 9, after Mr. Snowden was presented with this year’s Sam Adams Associates Award for Integrity in Intelligence. We four Sam Adams Associates Jesselyn Radack, Thomas Drake, Coleen Rowley, and I chatted into the wee hours with Mr. Snowden and WikiLeaks journalist Ms. Sarah Harrison.  (It was Ms. Harrison who facilitated his departure from Hong Kong on June 23. She has been at his side ever since to witness that he is not undergoing at the hands of the Russians what in some Western countries are called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”)

I asked Mr. Snowden whether he was aware that just six days before our Sam Adams award ceremony, Michael Hayden, former director of both the NSA and the CIA had said publicly that he had “thought of nominating Mr. Snowden … for a different list” an unmistakable hint that Mr. Snowden be put on President Barack Obama’s infamous “Kill List.” With a wan smile, Mr. Snowden assured me that Yes; he keeps well up on such things.

And did he know that Mike Rogers, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, chimed right in with immediate support for Hayden’s suggestion, stating, “I can help you with that?” This time the wan smile gave way to a wince and another Yes. (Both Hayden and Rogers were speaking at an Oct. 3 conference sponsored by the Washington Post, which, oddly, neglected to report on this macabre/mafiatype pas de deux.)

After the back-to-back wan smile and wince, I resisted the urge to ask Mr. Snowden if he saw reassurance in the official letter of July 23 from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to his Russian counterpart conveying Holder’s promise: “Mr. Snowden will not be tortured … if he returns to the United States.”

In his Oct. 31 article, Mr. Myers includes an instructive remark from Anatoly Kucherena, a Russian lawyer assisting Mr. Snowden. Mr. Kucherena told Myers he would not discuss Mr. Snowden’s life in exile “because the level of threat from the U.S. government structures is still very high.”

THAT’S what I meant by “not completely free.”

Ray McGovern works for Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. Ray entered the CIA as an analyst on the same day as the late CIA analyst Sam Adams (a direct descendant of John Adams, by the way), and was instrumental in founding Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence.

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6 comments for “Clarifying Snowden’s ‘Freedom’

  1. John Kirsch
    November 4, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    This may seem (and be) wildly off the mark, but when I see the lengths that Snowden has been forced to go through to protect himself from the U.S. security apparatus (so far) and the sinister insinuations of Hayden and Rogers, I can’t help but think of the lengths that Trotsky was forced to go through, ie, fleeing to Mexico City, in order to evade Stalin. And we all know how that ended.

  2. F. G. Sanford
    November 3, 2013 at 5:21 pm

    Authoritarian followers exhibit personality traits that are well documented and easily recognized. The vulgar commonality of these types, unfortunately, cannot be properly discussed without risking the invocation of the so-called “Godwin’s Law” accusation. At the risk of failing to point out the true nature of Representative Peter King’s remark, perhaps I can defer to a quotation by a man whose eminent qualifications to make such statements is unassailable:

    “I shared the opinion of ethnologists and politicians alike that Nazism was a socio-cultural disease which, while it had been epidemic only among our enemies, was endemic in all parts of the world. I shared the fear that sometime in the future it might become epidemic in my own nation.”

    Douglas M. Kelley, MD
    Chief Psychiatrist, Nuremberg War Crimes Trials
    “22 Cells in Nuremberg”, 1947

    • Ray McGovern
      November 3, 2013 at 9:40 pm

      wow. once again, many thanks, F.G. — especially for the unsettling quote from Dr. Kelley. I have been saying like things to German and Dutch media over past week or so. Can check out raymcgovern.com. ray

    • Coleen Rowley
      November 4, 2013 at 12:06 pm

      Yes. The “banality of evil” has a simple psychological explanation due to the uneasy yin-yang symbiosis between naturally occurring personality traits that define psychopathy and the group think/vulnerability to emotions that categorize the other 99% of most human beings. Leadership greatly overlaps with the 1 to 2% of those who score high on the psychopathy scale, i.e. intense focus, persistence, huge ego, need to manipulate and control others, detachment from and lack of human emotion –traits which are beneficial to many human endeavors (see “The Wisdom of Psychopaths” by Kevin Dutton) until one arrives at the extreme fringe of those criminal psychopaths who become incapable of any self-control.

      On the other end of the personality spectrum is the “group think” vulnerability and obedience to authority seen and proven by social psychologists Soloman Asch, Stanley Milgram and others. Pressing the emotional buttons (mostly fear, hate, greed, false pride and blind loyalty) of most people who are non-psychopathic but thus emotionally vulnerable will allow a “leader” (including an authoritarian or psychopath) to control the entire group. It works every time.

      The ebb and flow that makes for this natural yin-yang symbiosis is quite easily thrown out of balance and we are again at one of those moments. The diagnosis of this socio-cultural disease is in. And it’s catchy! Now for a cure.

  3. Bill Bodden
    November 3, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    ” Michael Hayden, former director of both the NSA and the CIA had said publicly that he had “thought of nominating Mr. Snowden … for a different list” – an unmistakable hint that Mr. Snowden be put on President Barack Obama’s infamous “Kill List.” With a wan smile, Mr. Snowden assured me that Yes; he keeps well up on such things.

    “And did he know that Mike Rogers, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, chimed right in with immediate support for Hayden’s suggestion, stating, ‘I can help you with that?'”

    Presumably, General Hayden and Congressperson Rogers see these propositions as tactics to preserve our democracy even if there is nothing in the Constitution that they have pledged to uphold that encourages the assassination of citizens.

    • John Kirsch
      November 4, 2013 at 6:01 pm

      To me, the blanket surveillance that Snowden exposed, and the Obama administration’s ongoing war on civil liberties and whistle blowers and the efforts to make voting more difficult if not impossible are all part of a trend away from the concept of citizenship we learned about in school (and thought was still in force) and toward a lesser status that could be compared to that of being a subject (of a king) or a peon or slave.

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