A former American NSA and CIA security contractor-turned-whistleblower leaks to the international press highly classified government documents revealing that his beloved U.S.A. is spying on its citizens.
"I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things [conducts surveillance on its citizens],” he told Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian after fleeing the U.S. for Hong Kong.
“I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded… That is not something I am willing to support or live under.”
Sounds noble until we ask ourselves: If one is so ideologically opposed to government spying on its citizens, why seek asylum in the two places (China and Russia) that have long abused their citizens’ personal freedoms and human rights?
While Edward Snowden may seem a righteous truth-seeker whose only goal is to selflessly shield Americans from Big Brother, his actions appear quite incongruous with his story.
On the one hand, Snowden seems every bit the hero 55 percent of U.S. citizens consider him to be. After all, he exposed the extent to which everyday Americans are being monitored by the NSA and other government agencies, revealing that nothing we say or do -- even in our own homes -- is sacred or private.
But it is one thing to tell Americans what their own government may or may not be doing to them. It is quite another to tell America’s still post-Cold War foes what America is doing at all.
It is perhaps this gray area that has detracted attention from who this 30-year-old security contractor, now charged with espionage, really is, and what his asylum-seeking in Putin’s Russia actually represents.
To begin with, it makes the U.S. a laughing stock and gives Putin an advantage in the ongoing chess game of U.S.-Russia relations.
On August 1, after roughly one month on Russian soil, Snowden, the “unwelcomed Christmas present” (as Putin refers to him), was granted one-year temporary asylum in Russia, renewable annually. Indeed, Snowden can even apply for citizenship after a five-year period of residency if not sooner.
Clearly, Snowden’s refuge comes at a price: Namely the divulgence of sensitive information Putin can now use against the increasingly weak, toothless tiger that is the Obama administration.
How toothless is this tiger? Let’s begin by examining just how seriously Putin takes America:
Recall that in May, upon his first diplomatic visit as envoy to Russia, Secretary of State John Kerry was kept waiting for three hours until Putin could finally be bothered to arrive, blatantly breaking with, as Heritage Foundation Senior Fellow Ariel Cohen put it, standard “diplomatic protocol.”
After the former KGB apparatchik finally graced Kerry with his presence, he could hardly hide his boredom.
Putin’s behavior was, of course, a calculated way of demonstrating to the U.S. how very little the Kremlin values or respects it.
And why should he?
After learning of Snowden’s sojourn to Russia, this was White House Press Secretary Jay Carney’s bone-chilling display of strength:
"We are extremely disappointed that the Russian government would take this step despite our very clear and lawful request [to extradite Snowden to the U.S.]…Mr. Snowden is not a whistleblower—he is accused of leaking classified information."
“Extremely disappointed” is what a parent says to his child after he comes home with a “C” on his report card, not what the spokesman for leader of the free world says to the man harboring an enemy of the state.
Nevertheless, Carney pressed on with the tough-talk, while various Obama officials (including Carney himself) negated each of the administration’s would-be threats with the revelation that it will actually not follow through on any of them.
For example, an August meeting between Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State Kerry and Russian officials was being reconsidered, but then the WSJ later reported that senior State Department officials said they do not anticipate that the meeting will be cancelled because the U.S. has a “broad range of topics…including Afghanistan,” to discuss with Russia.
Then it was revealed that the administration might consider withdrawing from a pre-G20 September summit in Moscow with Putin and President Obama, but, it seems as a matter of diplomacy, the show will in fact go on.
Even Democratic stalwart Chuck Schumer appeared fazed and thinks some meetings, at least the G-20, should be canceled or rearranged in protest.
"Russia's stabbed us in the back and every day that Snowden is allowed to be free they twist the knife further," the New York senator told reporters.
"Now that Snowden has been set free, I don't think the G-20 should be meeting in Russia and I think we should not participate if they do."
To which Carney responded that Obama actually still plans to attend the G-20 summit.
While Russia’s decision regarding Snowden is a "slap in the face to the United States," Carney ceded, the Obama administration is more focused on addressing Syria.
So let’s save Snowden for later? He’s not that important, right?
Actually, that’s precisely what Kremlin foreign-policy advisor Yuri Ushakov thinks too.
“This situation is too insignificant to affect political relations," the WSJ reported Ushakov as stating.
The Russian official added that his government has yet to receive any indication from the U.S. that summits in September or, presumably, any other time will be canceled.
All the stars seem to be aligned for Putin. He received his “unwelcomed Christmas present” and it is indeed a gift that will keep on giving.
The Russian President now has a bargaining chip to use against the U.S., along with classified information that could potentially devastate U.S. national security both at home and abroad.
By propagandizing the image of an American truth-seeker fleeing the land of the free for Eastern promises, Mother Russia and Putin’s façade of benevolence appears astonishingly warm and welcoming – both to the Russian people (and more poignantly, Putin’s critics) as well as others abroad.
What’s more, it reaffirms the Obama administration’s weakness on foreign policy and national security in all its forms and incarnations – from al Qaeda operatives murdering our U.S. Ambassador to a turncoat charged with one of the gravest security breaches in U.S. history.
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