If Edward Snowden isn’t very careful, they’re going to crush his head!
The fate of Edward Snowden continues to be excruciatingly unresolved. The former NSA contractor who made international headlines in 2013 when he illegally disclosed details about the shocking scope of federal surveillance programs via The Guardian and other news outlets has been obliged to seek asylum from various non-U.S.-aligned governments, such as Russia, Ecuador, and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. Nobody really disputes that Snowden has committed criminal acts—no matter how justified—and yet the intransigent stance of the U.S. to hold over Snowden’s head the most draconian penalties (short of the death penalty, praise Jeebus). Attorney General Eric Holder promised that Snowden would not be tortured if Russia, Snowden’s current home, were to turn him over to U.S. authorities, but in the wake of Bush/Cheney and Obama himself, such promises ring hollow. In the end, the behavior of the U.S. government and other western governments has, unfortunately, tended for the most part to substantiate Snowden’s more “paranoid” claims. The optimal outcome at this stage would be for the United States to offer a more “reasonable” prison term of 3-5 years—such a gesture would go a long way towards confirming to suspicious citizens that the U.S. intends to get its house in order.
Short of that, acceptance by U.S.-friendly western goverments of the European Union would likewise tend to send the message that U.S.security-related surveillance interests don’t trump every other value in the geopolitical system. One of the dispiritng lessons of the Snowden affair thus far has been the lack of counterbalancing perspective in the global system, in other words, the only apparent recourse Snowden has had to escape punishment from the United States has been various “bad guys” like Iran, North Korea, Russia and so on. The strong impression has been left that countries like Germany, France, U.K., and so on, which once may have acted as sensible, fair brokers are all (a) unduly beholden to the U.S., and (b) compromised in their own right, as each country has its own semi-legal regime of espionage and surveillance. If all western states are but satellites in the U.S. sphere of influence, then Snowden’s revelations become all the more urgent.
For this reason, Snowden’s testimony (delivered in the form of a written statement) to the European Parliament on March 7 is a huge story—one that, sadly, has gone largely unnoticed by major U.S. media outlets. (At this point it’s a little difficult to distinguish sinister anti-Snowden propaganda from regular Snowden fatigue.) You can read Snowden’s entire testimony here.
In his testimony, Snowden related that he has requested asylum in from a number of EU countries, only to be told by European Parliamentarians that the United States would not permit its EU partners to make such an offer. “I do seek EU asylum, but I have yet to receive a positive response to the requests I sent to various EU member states. Parliamentarians in the national governments have told me that the US, and I quote, ‘will not allow’ EU partners to offer political asylum to me, which is why the previous resolution on asylum ran into such mysterious opposition. I would welcome any offer of safe passage or permanent asylum, but I recognize that would require an act of extraordinary political courage.”
In Snowden’s view, the NSA and the security agencies of various EU states have created a “European bazaar” in which the perception of shared interests among the EU states trump the rights and expectations of western citizens to conduct their affairs in private. Wrote Snowden:
“The result is a European bazaar, where an EU member state like Denmark may give the NSA access to a tapping center on the (unenforceable) condition that NSA doesn’t search it for Danes, and Germany may give the NSA access to another on the condition that it doesn’t search for Germans. Yet the two tapping sites may be two points on the same cable, so the NSA simply captures the communications of the German citizens as they transit Denmark, and the Danish citizens as they transit Germany, all the while considering it entirely in accordance with their agreements. Ultimately, each EU national government’s spy services are independently hawking domestic accesses to the NSA, GCHQ [U.K. Government Communications Headquarters], FRA [Försvarets radioanstalt, the Swedish National Defense Radio Establishment], and the like without having any awareness of how their individual contribution is enabling the greater patchwork of mass surveillance against ordinary citizens as a whole.”
Snowden has gone out of his way to put up a non-threatening front to the EU, insisting that he left the Russian secret service frustrated in its attempts to procure from Snowden further classified information about the United States. To the question “Did the Russian secret service approach you?” Snowden replied:
“Of course. Even the secret service of Andorra would have approached me, if they had had the chance: that’s their job. But I didn’t take any documents with me from Hong Kong, and while I’m sure they were disappointed, it doesn’t take long for an intelligence service to realize when they’re out of luck. I was also accompanied at all times by an utterly fearless journalist with one of the biggest megaphones in the world, which is the equivalent of Kryptonite for spies. As a consequence, we spent the next 40 days trapped in an airport instead of sleeping on piles of money while waiting for the next parade. But we walked out with heads held high. I would also add, for the record, that the United States government has repeatedly acknowledged that there is no evidence at all of any relationship between myself and the Russian intelligence service.”
According to Snowden, the NSA itself, which has well-nigh unregulated status within the U.S. federal government, has itself been pushing for EU states to take actions that do not benefit EU citizens:
“One of the foremost activities of the NSA’s FAD, or Foreign Affairs Division, is to pressure or incentivize EU member states to change their laws to enable mass surveillance. Lawyers from the NSA, as well as the UK’s GCHQ, work very hard to search for loopholes in laws and constitutional protections that they can use to justify indiscriminate, dragnet surveillance operations that were at best unwittingly authorized by lawmakers.”
The Snowden “affair” is a highly sensitive “node” in the incredibly complex network of institutions that touch on so many important aspects of our lives—the federal government, telecom companies, Google and Facebook, credit card companies, the U.S. military, Russia, the UN, and so on. If the European Parliament denies Snowden’s requests, it will be another depressing sign that those interrelated interests do not have your or my well-being at heart.
In this video, Democracy Now! looks at the three most important of Snowden’s revelations: