Edward Snowden. (Courtesy of guardiannews.com)
President Obama is risking a serious break in relations with both Russia and China over the travels of Edward Snowden. “We are not looking for a confrontation,” said Secretary of State John Kerry. But the United States just might get one if it’s not careful.
Snowden, still apparently hanging out in the transit area of Moscow’s airport, isn’t talking. But, at least in the view of US intelligence specialists, it’s all too late, and both China and Russia have harvested Snowden’s classified bounty.
Kerry sounded downright schoolmarmish, in an earlier statement: “There are standards of behavior between sovereign nations. There is common law. There is respect for rule of law.”
Meanwhile, Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, slammed China for letting Snowden travel to Moscow:
“The Chinese have emphasized the importance of building mutual trust. We think that they have dealt that effort a serious setback. If we cannot count on them to honor their legal extradition obligations, then there is a problem.”
The Chinese, it appears, found a way to ignore or misplace American demands that Snowden be extradited.
“We are just not buying that this was a technical decision by a Hong Kong immigration official. This was a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive, despite a valid arrest warrant. And that decision unquestionably has a negative impact on the U.S.-China relationship.”
Snowden’s travels have posed delicate diplomatic problems for both Beijing and Moscow, although it’s also possible that either one or both of them have reaped a bonanza if they’ve gotten their hands on whatever is in Snowden’s several laptops and thumb drives—either because Snowden gave them the material or, more likely, because their intelligence agencies have managed to acquire the information surreptitiously. As The New York Times reported:
American intelligence officials remained deeply concerned that Mr. Snowden could make public more documents disclosing details of the National Security Agency’s collection system or that his documents could be obtained by foreign intelligence services, with or without his cooperation.
Senator Dianne Feinstein said over the weekend that Snowden still has more than 200 classified documents in his possession, and some of them could be doozies. Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who first published Snowden’s initial documents, says that there are “thousands.”
One former intelligence official said Russian authorities were almost certain to debrief Snowden and seize any computer files he carried into the country.
In a separate piece, the Post says that the same thing probably happened in China:
“That stuff is gone,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official who served in Russia. “I guarantee the Chinese intelligence service got their hands on that right away. If they imaged the hard drives and then returned them to him, well, then the Russians have that stuff now.”
Another Post article suggests that US officials are petrified:
“They think he copied so much stuff—that almost everything that place does, he has,” said one former government official, referring to the NSA, where Snowden worked as a contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton while in the NSA’s Hawaii facility. “Everyone’s nervous about what the next thing will be, what will be exposed.”
Both countries have rebuffed American efforts to get them to hand over Snowden. Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, was in high dudgeon, though some of his comments seemed wry and almost tongue-in-cheek. Russia can’t extradite Snowden, Putin said, because “Mr. Snowden, thank God, has not committed any crimes on the Russian Federation territory.”
Russia, meanwhile, hilariously sent a passel of reporters on a wild goose chase to Cuba.
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, sounded angry indeed:
“We have no connection with Mr. Snowden, nor with his relation toward the American justice system, nor with his movement around the world. He chose his own route and we, like most of those here, found out about this from the press.… He didn’t cross the Russian border, and we consider the attempts we are seeing to accuse the Russian side of violating United States law as completely ungrounded and unacceptable, or nearly a conspiracy accompanied by threats against us. There are no legal grounds for this kind of behavior from American officials toward us.”
A Chinese official, speaking for the government, said that US concerns about Snowden’s comings and goings in Hong Kong were “groundless” and “really make people wonder.”
Meanwhile, the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong daily, published an interview with Snowden in which he said that he’d deliberately sought to work for Booz Allen Hamilton, the intelligence contractor, so he get ahold of information on surveillance that he could blow:
“My position with Booz Allen Hamilton granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked. That is why I accepted that position about three months ago.”… Asked if he specifically went to Booz Allen Hamilton to gather evidence of surveillance, he replied: “Correct on Booz.”
US officials should check their history before going after whistleblowers.