In many ways, National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden is more wanted by the U.S. government than was Osama Bin Laden just six months after the 9/11 attack on the United States. President George W. Bush said during a White House press conference, «Who knows if he’s [Bin Laden] hiding in some cave or not. We haven’t heard from him in a long time. The idea of focusing on one person really indicates to me people don’t understand the scope of the mission. Terror is bigger than one person. He’s just a person who’s been marginalized... I don’t know where he is. I really just don’t spend that much time on him, to be honest with you».
Compare Bush’s attitude toward Bin Laden to Obama’s obsession with capturing Snowden and the hypocrisy of American foreign policy across the board comes into clear focus.
Barack Obama has made it one of the linchpins of his administration to identify, prosecute, and imprison national security whistleblowers. Obama has charged more government employees under the provisions of the antiquated 1917 Espionage Act than all of his predecessors combined. Edward Snowden was the seventh person charged with violating the Espionage Act after he released to The Guardian and The Washington Post classified documents from the NSA revealing the extent of U.S. communication surveillance of the Internet, phone calls, text messages, and Skype communications within the United States and around the world.
After Snowden arrived in Hong Kong and began releasing classified NSA documents anonymously and then under his name, the United States immediately went to work in trying to apprehend the one-time Booz Allen Hamilton contractor at the NSA Regional Security Operations Center (RSOC) in Kunia, Hawaii. The State Department revoked Snowden’s passport and requested that Hong Kong extradite Snowden under the U.S.-Kong extradition treaty. However, the treaty states that political offenses are not recognized by Hong Kong as a justification for extradition. That provision was written into Hong Kong law prior to the change of sovereignty for the city from Britain to China and it was pushed by human rights advocates in the Bill Clinton administration who did not want to see Chinese pro-democracy advocates living in Hong Kong deported back to China. But that meant nothing to the Obama administration, which threatened Hong Kong with visa and trade sanctions over its failure to extradite Snowden.
Hong Kong pointed out that the U.S. extradition request misidentified Snowden as «Edward James Snowden» and not Edward Joseph Snowden» and that his passport number was not provided. The White House fumed that Hong Kong and China stalled on the request and permitted Snowden to fly to Moscow on an Aeroflot flight. Ecuador came in for Obama’s wrath after its consul in London, Fidel Narvaez, provided Snowden with an Ecuadorian refugee document that allowed Snowden to travel to Russia from Hong Kong. When it appeared that Snowden had booked an Aeroflot flight to Havana for possible onward travel to Ecuador, Vice President Joe Biden phoned Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa to demand Snowden’s extradition to the United States under the American extradition treaty with that country. However, like Hong Kong, there is a political exclusion clause in the treaty. Nevertheless, the United States would soon show the world that international law meant nothing to the roughshod players in the White House, State Department, and NSA.
Snowden, who was reportedly in limbo in the transit lounge of Sheremetyevo Airport, saw his options begin to ebb as once country after another rejected his asylum requests after concerted Obama administration pressure was applied. Poland, Iceland, France, Germany, Finland, India, and Brazil all gave thumbs down to Snowden. Meanwhile, Snowden’s father, Lonnie Snowden, reportedly voiced his misgivings that the group WikiLeaks, dominated by its co-founder Julian Assange, who was working in his own flight-from-arrest diplomatic limbo from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, was manipulating his son for its own advantage. Considering the fact that Assange had managed to alienate the other original supporters of the whistleblowing site WikiLeaks, there was much justification to Lonnie Snowden’s concerns.
Just as thing began looking grim for Edward Snowden, the Obama administration delivered him an unexpected gift. Believing that Snowden was on board the executive Falcon jet of Bolivian President Evo Morales, who had just attended a natural gas exporting summit in Moscow and remarked that he might grant Snowden asylum in Bolivia, the United States, through its ambassadors in Paris, Madrid, Rome, and Lisbon, arranged for the four NATO allies to deny over flight privileges to Morales’s aircraft. The U.S. ambassador in Vienna, Obama political fundraiser William Eacho, conspired with the Austrian government and the Spanish ambassador in Vienna, Alberto Carnero, to force Morales’s plane to land in Vienna so Carnero could conduct an «inspection» of the plane in search of Snowden. Morales denied that Snowden was on board and the Austrians, French, Spanish, Italians, and Portuguese scrambled to explain their affront to the Bolivian head of state by coming up with various ridiculous explanations.
The Morales plane incident came as more revelations from Snowden appeared in the press that NSA, along with Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), were collecting communications meta-data from the transatlantic 14 (TAT 14) cable at Bude in Cornwall. After it was revealed in the UK Observer that Germany and France, which were publicly complaining about the tap, were Third Party partners of NSA and GCHQ and conducted their own taps and provided the intelligence to NSA, a small group of right-wing activists tied to the NSA’s and Pentagon’s professional «sock puppet» brigade of cognitive dissonance cyber-propagandists, launched a Twitter, Facebook, and email campaign against The Observer, its sister paper The Guardian, and this author, who was quoted by both papers about the NSA Third Party story. The campaign succeeded in diverting attention away from the NSA Third Party relationships and on to the story, the source, The Observer reporter, and a London website that simultaneously revealed the Third Party story.
However, for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the political damage was done. Her hypocrisy in complaining about NSA surveillance only to have the operations of her own intelligence service with the U.S. revealed caused her to sink in the opinion polls. Obama, who had been riding on high popularity in Europe, also saw his favorability plummet as more and more Europeans understood that Obama was bent on surveillance and coming down on whistleblowers like Snowden with an iron fist and a jackboot. There were calls by opposition politicians in Germany, France, Norway, Iceland, and Ireland to grant Snowden asylum in their countries. Politicians from the Belarusian Green Party to the Icelandic Pirate Party rallied to Snowden’s cause. A motion was introduced but then tabled in the Icelandic parliament that would have granted Snowden Icelandic citizenship. Ireland’s High Court ruled that Ireland would not accede to America’s international arrest warrant for Snowden.
Latin America responded to the Morales plane incident by rallying to Snowden’s side. Offers of asylum came from Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Bolivia and Brazilian legislators called for Brazil to reverse its original denial of asylum and grant it to Snowden.
Weeks after China decided not to intervene on Washington’s behalf and permitted Snowden to fly from Hong Kong to China, Obama was still miffed when he met senior Chinese officials in Washington for trade talks. Revelations that NSA spied on Chinese and Hong Kong communications took the wind from Obama’s bellicosity over alleged Chinese state-sponsored computer hacking into American computers.
Meanwhile, the Pussy Riot- and FEMEN-supporting U.S. to Moscow, Michael McFaul looked more and more foolish as he pressed Moscow to return Snowden to American soil. Instead, Snowden was permitted to meet human rights officials at Moscow’s airport and petition for temporary political asylum in Russia. Obama stated that he would not «scramble jets» to get Snowden, but a deviation in the course away from U.S. airspace, the day before, of a Moscow to Havana flight generated rumors, all unfounded, that Snowden was aboard the plane.
America was once again being treated as the renegade country it was during the Bush administration. The only difference was that Obama was putting more resources into capturing Snowden than Bush did in apprehending Bin Laden…