The Fight between David and Goliath: Edward Snowden vs. the White House
Dmitry MININ | 30.01.2014 | WORLD

The Fight between David and Goliath: Edward Snowden vs. the White House

Presidential Policy Directive No. 28 (PPD-28), «Signals Intelligence Activities» (1, signed by President Obama after Snowden's revelations, has only glossed over U.S. espionage activities. In essence the new directive does not change anything. This is especially noticeable after the appearance several days ago of a report from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent U.S. government agency.   The report, which examines the issue from both sides and is addressed to the President, among others, says that the collection and storage of telephone data by the U.S. National Security Agency only help in the war on terrorism to a small degree, are illegal and should be ended.  It seems that the rules for protecting human rights which Washington loves so much to talk about were not written for it…  

In essence, everything remains the same. Goliath still intends to throw the stones of espionage around throughout the world, promising, of course, to be more careful about it. David is more sparing with his stones, but he has better aim. On January 23 Edward Snowden gave an online interview in which he responded to the latest initiatives of the American administration caused by his revelations. (2 He did not deny that intelligence retains its importance. Snowden spoke respectfully of his former NSA colleagues, many of whom he believes think the same way he does. The issue is unaccountability and the practice of senior officials assigning their employees tasks which are anti-constitutional in nature. 

In particular, Snowden is skeptical about the central idea of Obama's reform that all orders for surveillance should be made by a special court. He points out that the secret court simply «rubber-stamps» incoming requests like an assembly line. Since its inception this body has approved, for example, 99.97% of requests made by intelligence agencies.

The directive contains no promise to stop collecting data on people domestically or abroad, even if they have done nothing against the law. Snowden asserts that if someone comes to the attention of the American government, it can use «retroactive investigation» conducted by the NSA to obtain a complete record of that person's daily activity going back five years. «You might not remember where you went to dinner on June 12th 2009, but the government does.» As before, it is not only specific persons deserving of such who are the objects of electronic surveillance, which is perfectly justified, but entire nations, which is unacceptable. 

Many ask: why accumulate enormous masses of information about literally everything on earth? After all, no one could ever read and analyze even a small fraction of them. Do not jump to conclusions. This is done by special programs which sort and classify all the data obtained about individual people into electronic dossiers. They can also draw conclusions about the connections, character and inclinations of each «object». Modern technology and computer memory make this entirely possible. As a result, in its contacts with any foreign partner, from a head of state to an ordinary person, the Americans will always have an advantage, since they have a detailed «profile» of the person which allows them to use all necessary means of psychological and other influence. And that means they control the world. The same applies to the American government's approach to U.S. citizens. «Big Brother» does not just know everything about its younger brothers and sisters; it uses that knowledge to control them. 

Snowden believes that developing international norms to limit espionage will take the efforts of all humanity. The system cannot correct itself. This problem cannot be resolved through limitations in national legislation. No one, for example, should hack critical-to-life infrastructure like hospitals, power stations, etc. Such information, which has no bearing on the security of the U.S. but affects the safety of others, is being collected by the NSA as well. 

At the World Economic Forum in Davos the idea of establishing an independent international commission which would make an in-depth two-year study of how the operation and supervision of the Internet should be organized in the future «spontaneously» came up. This work is to encompass censorship on the Web, privacy, and mass surveillance. A good idea, but who's at the helm? 

At the head of this commission, which is to begin its work in May 2014, is the «neutral» Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. However, if one recalls his pro-American line as an EU and UN Special Envoy to the Balkans during events in Yugoslavia, one cannot call him a neutral politician. The members of the international committee are of interest as well. Its formal founders are Britain's Chatham House and the Centre for International Governance Innovation, headquartered in Canada. Both have close ties with the governments of their respective countries, which form part of the «Five Eyes» Anglo-Saxon alliance for the surveillance of humanity. Among the 25 individual members of the Internet Commission are, for example, such figures as former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and former director of Britain's Government Communications Headquarters David Omand, who have put in a lot of work toward creating an all-encompassing surveillance mechanism.

It is ludicrous to speak of the objectivity of such a commission. It was created to circumvent the UN, where a movement to pass an international document which would hinder abuse of the Internet in the interests of individual states and groups of people is gaining momentum. Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff proposed holding a world conference on this issue in Rio de Janeiro in April 2014. Apparently the «Davos initiative» has made it one of its goals not to allow such politicians as the Brazilian president, who is extremely displeased with U.S. actions, to take the lead in discussing issues of digital sovereignty. 

At the same time, maneuvers intended to take Snowden himself out of the game have not ceased, even though his revelations have long since taken on a life of their own. On the one hand, they are trying to frighten him, threatening, for example, through the words of certain politicians to send American drones to track and kill him; on the other hand, they are opening opportunities for agreements with the U.S. authorities in an attempt to influence him. The campaign to discredit him continues as well; however, it is now mostly spinning its wheels without attaining its goals. Calls to pardon Snowden are growing louder every day. They are being directed toward the U.S. government both by human rights organizations and by influential publications like The New York Times and others.

In commenting on the statements of some congressmen who believe that Snowden might be connected with Russian intelligence, White House Spokesman Jay Carney was forced to admit:  «I don’t have more detail...What I can tell you is that our position on Mr. Snowden I think is abundantly clear to everyone, including the Russians, and our view [is] that he ought to be returned to the United States where he will be afforded all the rights and protections in our system.»  As if it is a walk in the park that awaits him, not a harsh sentence.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder expressed his position more carefully, stating that the U.S. government is willing to discuss how the criminal case against Edward Snowden will be handled. According to Holder, «were he coming back to the U.S. to enter a plea, we would engage with his lawyers.» One should not, however, cherish illusions. For the American government, the main thing is to get Snowden to return to the country at any cost. A softer tone does not mean a change in position. The Attorney General ruled out the possibility of a pardon for Snowden. «We’ve always indicated that the notion of clemency isn’t something that we were willing to consider,» he said, adding with regard to possible discussions with Mr. Snowden’s lawyers that «We would do the same with any defendant who wanted to enter a plea of guilty». 

In this sense the U.S. administration's intention to severely punish even the company which recruited Snowden to work at the NSA is telling. For example, it has become known that the company which conducted the background check on Edward Snowden is being accused of fraud. The Department of Justice alleges that U.S. Investigations Services Inc. deceived the U.S. government, improperly labeling over 650,000 investigations as complete. According to the suit, the falsified results make up 40% of all the cases the company has handled for the government over the course of four years. The company, however, insists that honesty and high quality standards are its founding principles.

It is no surprise that Edward Snowden himself is in no hurry to rush into the arms of American justice. To the question asked online by CNN correspondent Jake Tapper regarding the possibility of his returning to the U.S., he responded reasonably that this would be the «best resolution», but «unfortunately» it is not realistic in the absence of reliable protection for whistleblowers in the U.S. (4 Reportedly Moscow is prepared to continue extending its hospitality to him. So the remote dialog between David and Goliath will apparently go on.