Stuck in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremtyevo Airport since June 23, 30-year-old former CIA and National Security Agency contractor Begged for his papers to enter Russia with the caveat he no longer leak damaging information about U.S. spying operations. Handing the NSA-leaker a copy of Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment,” his Russian attorney Anatoly Kucherena hyped the drama. Battling the U.S. State Department, Russian authorities insisted they had no basis for handing Snowden over to U.S. authorities. Snowden’s WikiLeaks handlers claim he would be subjected to arrest-and-torture, needing asylum on humanitarian ground. U.S. officials revoked Snowden’s passport June 23, before the fugitive fled from Hong Kong to Moscow. “I am not talking about the similarity of inner contradictions,” said Kucherena, regarding any comparison to Dostoyevsky novel about tsarist Russia.
Snowden finds himself losing the PR battle labeling himself a humanitarian whistleblower, in contrast to a fugitive of the U.S. justice system. Charged with violating the U.S. Espionage Act, Snowden no longer enjoys the same public sympathies carefully crafted by his WikiLeaks’ handlers. Unable to fly directly to Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela or Bolivia, Snowden’s been holed up in the transit area of the Moscow Airport. Kucherena’s acknowledged that he was not issued appropriate immigration papers to spring Snowden from the airport. “Russia is his final destination for now. He doesn’t look further into the future than that,” said Kucherena, confirming to Russian authorities that Snowden would hit U.S-Russian relations with a wrecking ball. Russian President Vladimir Putin must make a wise decision whether or not Snowden’s worth all the fuss.
Snowden claims he leaked classified information about U.S. spying operations to expose what he’s called inappropriate government intrustion. Exposing U.S. spying operations hit the White House with an over-stuffed cream pie, when you consider President Barack Obama raised Russian spying with Putin June 17, only to get hit with Snowden’s accusations about U.S. spying June 23. Robbing Obama of the moral authority on U.S. espionage, Putin now has the upper-hand when it comes U.S. concerns about Russian spying. When Obama and Putin meet in Moscow and St. Petersburg Sept. 5-6, it’s going to be a tense meeting unless the Snowden affair can be resolved sometime soon. Granting Snowden temporary asylum would slap Obama in the kisser, preventing U.S. authorities from capturing the 30-year-old NSA leaker. Putin needs to consider the consequences of granting asylum.
Apart from sticking it to the U.S., Snowden holds no real value to the Kremlin other than debriefing him about NSA spying practices—something the old KGB or new FSB knows plenty about. White House spokesman Jay Carney said the administration was “seeking clarity” from Moscow on how they expect to proceed. “Providing any refuge to Edward Snowden will be harmful to U.S.-Russian Relations,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Robert Menendez (D-Fl.). Talking about what asylum will or won’t do isn’t helpful to Obama as he faces the prospects of a face-to-face meeting with Putin in early September. State Department officials should be making friendly, not threatening, overtures to Russian authorities to sell them on the idea of turning Snowden over to the U.S. embassy. More idle threats only make bilateral relations worse.
Russian authorities shouldn’t feel obligated to grant Snowden temporary or permanent asylum. Breaching confidentiality agreements and violating U.S. espionage laws hardly represent whistleblowing. While it’s tempting to believe WikiLeaks or other human rights groups, they operate from a different paradigm, often blaming governments for defending national security. Saying Snowden wants to study Russian culture couldn’t be further from the truth. All Snowden wants is to escape the long arm of American justice. Had he done to Russia what he did to America, Snowden would be sitting in a Siberian prison or shot by a firing squad, not hiding out in the Sheremtyevo Airport. Playing cat-and-mouse with U.S. authorities does nothing to mend fences and put U.S.-Russian relations back on the right track. Ending the Snowden mess before G20 in St. Petersburg would speak volumes.
Instead of allowing Snowden to interfere with U.S.-Russian relations, Putin should end spectacle and turn him over toe the U.S. embassy. Putin knows that Snowden’s behavior would have warranted far more draconic actions in Russia. Whether he, WikiLeaks or any other humanitarian group call him a whistleblower or not, Snowden’s a garden variety criminal that was caught violating contracts and espionage laws. After working for the CIA and Booz Allen Hamilton for years, the computer-hacker deserves little of sympathy solicited by his PR handlers. Now interfering with U.S.-Russian relations, Putin and Obama need to find a fix and give Snowden what he deserves: His day in court. Allowing the high school drop out to torpedo U.S.-Russian relations would be shameful. It’s time for Obama and Putin to end the stalemate and get back to business.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’d editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.