Faced with growing embarrassment over National Security Administration spying revealed by 29-year-old former CIA employee Edward Snowden, President Barack Obama ordered 71-year-old Vice President Joe Biden to mitigate the crisis. Whether Obama eventually faces more flogging in Congress or possible impeachment hearings is anyone’s guess. Take together with IRS abuses of GOP nonprofits and unresolved questions about Benghazi, Obama didn’t need the world exposed to the NSA’s covert spying program domestically and around the globe. With Snowden a fugitive, fleeing from the U.S. to Hong Kong, then to Moscow and awaiting possible asylum in Ecuador, Cuba, Yemen or wherever, Barack asked Biden to put the squeeze on Snowden. Revoking his U.S. passport June 23, the Immigration and Naturalization Service hoped to narrow Snowden’s options.
When Russian President Vladimir Putin rejected U.S. extradition requests June 26 while Snowden scampered incognito inside Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, U.S. officials shrugged, some, like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), exuding new vitriol over U.S.-Russian relations. While conservatives ranted about resuming the Cold War, Putin simply expressed displeasure with Obama’s decision to arm Syrian rebels, something Moscow believes will make a bad situation worse. White House officials can’t ignore the linkage between the Syrian conflict and Putin’s willingness to cooperate over the Snowden affair. No one in the Kremlin, certainly not Putin, wants Snowden to take up more airtime. Asked to intervene in Ecuador, Biden contacted Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa to request Ecuador refrain from granting asylum. Whether Biden threatened a loss of U.S. foreign aid isn’t known.
Asking Biden to intercede in Snowden affair risks antagonizing Ecuador into acceding to his asylum demands. Together with Cuba and Venezuela, Ecuador is part of the leftist ALBA block, not known for making concessions to the U.S. “They engaged in a broad conversation on the bilateral relationship. They did discuss Snowden,” said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor, regarding a conversation between Biden and Correa. “He communicated in a very courteous request from the United States that we reject the [asylum] request,” admitted Correa about his conversation with Biden. There was no indication of whether or not Biden hinted at freezing Ecuador’s foreign aid should they grant Snowden asylum. Snowden only holds propaganda value to leftist countries looking to embarrass the “land of the free and home of the brave” in what looks like an illegal spying operation.
While accepting Biden’s polite phone call, Correa chided members of Congress threatening trade sanctions. “When he [Snowden] arrives on Ecuadorian soil, if he arrives. . . of course the first opinions we will see are those of the United States,” said Correa, offering no assurance about Snowden’s extradition. If 41-year-old Australian-born WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is any hint, Snowden, like Assange, will be granted asylum. Assange currently has asylum in the London’s Ecuadorian embassy, preventing Denmark from extraditing him on alleged rape charges. Whether Snowden remains a thorn in the White House’s side or not, shouldn’t bear on where he receives asylum. White House officials have accused Snowden of treason, while some noted Americans, including MIT linguist and political commentator Noam Chomsky and former Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, call him a hero.
Snowden raises disturbing questions of just how far the government should go to pursue national security leads, including spying on its own citizens and foreign governments. While not known for sure, some think Snowden has given Russian Security Services [FSB] more information about U.S. spying practices. When Obama met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Rancho Mirage, Calif. June 8, he questioned China’s espionage practices. Snowden’s revelations present foreign governments, including China, with chilling images of U.S. spying practices. Biden’s attempt to pressure Correa, whether delivered politely of not, should have no bearing on U.S. foreign policy. U.S. officials hired Snowden, exposed him to classified information and got burned with his spuing revelations. Snowden’s problems with the U.S. government have nothing to do with his asylum request.
When you look at the big picture, Snowden’s an irresponsible post-adolescent that saw fit to grandstand with classified U.S. information. Failing to vet Snowden’s adequately isn’t Russia or Ecuador’s fault. U.S. officials have no one to blame but themselves for relying on garden-variety computer hackers and con artists to handle private national security information. Instead of ranting about Putin or heaping pressure on Correa, the White House would be better served trying to quietly reevaluate its NSA spying operation that—like the Transportation Security Administration—takes a shotgun approach rather than carefully profiling potential national security targets. Putting Biden in charge of Snowden’s pursuit only brings more disrepute onto the White House. Letting Snowden rot in a foreign country is a far worse fate than returning him to the States for a show trial.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.