FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Edward Snowden and China

by PETER LEE

First, why Hong Kong?

My answer: Because he’s a spook.

There has been no end of sniggering from the liberal Colonel Blimps that Snowden chose to reveal his identity in Hong Kong.

As in (from the Twitter feed of a journalist who relentlessly works the “unfree China” side of the street): “Seeking refuge in Hong Kong out of devotion to free speech is a bit like seeking refuge in Tibet out of devotion to Buddhism.”

Here’s what I think:

Snowden, in addition to his career as an IT grunt, had worked on the covert operations side in Geneva.

When he thinks about what happens to him, he assumes his identity is going to be revealed.  He looks at the situations of Bradley Manning and Julian Assange.  Definitely doesn’t want to stay in the United States (Manning).  Definitely doesn’t want to take up residence in a liberal democracy which happens to be a US security partner (Assange).

He wants to control the circumstances of his exposure and obtain maximum press exposure to shape international perceptions of him and rally support before the legal hammer comes down.

He doesn’t want to take the risk of getting quickly jacked up by a national legal system of a nation allied to the United States on any charge, trumped up, plausible, or genuine.

Iceland?  Pretty, snowy, let-Internet-freedom-ring-a-ding-ding Iceland?

One more problem.

He doesn’t want the local authorities and local spooks working enthusiastically with the US authorities to make surveil him, harass him, help make a case against him, and button him up.  He doesn’t want to get rendered.  He would like not to get bumped off.

What countries would a CIA analyst believe to have the lowest level of cooperation with the CIA and the most pervasive counterintelligence capabilities?  Russia maybe.  China maybe.

So he looks at a jurisdiction that a) has a liberal legal systems with good protections and process and b) keeps its US spooks on a short leash.

In other words, Hong Kong.

Second, were his revelations timed to coincide with the Sunnylands summit?

I guess so, for maximum hypocrisy exposure (Snowden) and media heat (Greenwald).  My personal feeling is that it is not going to affect US-China cyberbitchslapping too much.  Both sides already have a pretty good idea of each other’s capabilities.  In fact, I would think it would be better for Xi Jinping not to take the Snowden embarrassment as an excuse to take lightly President Obama’s demands.  This is just the sort of situation in which the United States drops the hammer in order to demonstrate that it’s still the biggest bully on the block.

Third, will the PRC arrange for Snowden to be extradited to the United States?

Probably, though I think their inclination will be to let the Hong Kong legal system grind ahead with all deliberate speed, perhaps with a few discrete shoves from behind the scenes, in order to preserve Hong Kong’s reputation for judicial independence.  If President Obama can bring himself to ask really, really nicely, the PRC might resort to some sort of extraordinary intervention.

But I think Snowden knows he’s coming home, sooner or later.

Fourth, why are Snowden, Greenwald, and the Washington Post receiving anything other than the thanks of a grateful nation for revealing, not the details of individual covert operations, but information on US surveillance capabilities which are known or suspected by most insiders but unknown only to the public at large?

I have no answer for that.

It is a rather disturbing fact that the evolution of 21st century society is driving us into a deeper awareness and understanding of the work of that famous French philosopher, Michel Foucault.

I will outsource this observation to the excellent Bernard over at Moon of Alabama:

Edward Snowden points to a different danger of such secret data accumulation:

[Snowden] said the [analysts and governments] labored under a false premise that “if a surveillance program produces information of value, it legitimizes it. . . . In one step, we’ve managed to justify the operation of the Panopticon.”

The Panopticon is a architectural concept for a prison where the guards can watch, unseen by the inmates, from a tower in the middle into all cells build in a circle around the tower. It leaves the inmates in a perceived state of permanent surveillance. The French philosopher Michel Foucault described the effect:

Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers.

The original Panopticon, like the digital version the NSA is building, takes away all feeling of privacy. Even when one is not watched, knowing that the possibility of being watched is always there, creates uncertainty and leads to self disciplining and self censorship. It is certainly a state the powers that be would like everyone, except themselves, to be in.

Well, I’ll add this.  For those of you unfamiliar with concepts of penal architecture, the Panopticon was a proposal by the 18th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham.  No true Panopticons were ever constructed for reasons of technical difficulty.  The nearest thing to a true Panopticon was built in Cuba in the 1920s:

panoticon

Here is the requisite ironic postscript from Wikipedia:

[T]he essential elements of Bentham’s design were not only that the custodians should be able to view the prisoners at all times (including times when they were in their cells), but also that the prisoners should be unable to see the custodians, and so could never be sure whether they were under surveillance or not.

This objective was extremely difficult to achieve within the constraints of the available technology, which is why Bentham spent so many years reworking his plans. Subsequent 19th-century prison designs enabled the custodians to keep the doors of cells and the outsides of buildings under observation, but not to see the prisoners in their cells. Something close to a realization of Bentham’s vision only became possible through 20th-century technological developments – notably closed-circuit television (CCTV) – but these eliminated the need for a specific architectural framework.

Peter Lee edits China Matters. His ground-breaking story on North Korea’s nuclear program, Big Bang Theory in North Korea, appears in the March issue of CounterPunch magazine. He can be reached at: chinamatters (at) prlee. org.

Peter Lee edits China Matters and writes about Asia for CounterPunch.  

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 09, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nasty As They Wanna Be
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Second Gilded Age: Overcoming the Rule of Billionaires and Militarists
Andrew Levine
Trump’s Chumps: Victims of the Old Bait and Switch
Chris Welzenbach
The Forgotten Sneak Attack
Lewis Lapham
Hostile Takeover
Joshua Frank
This Week at CounterPunch: More Hollow Smears and Baseless Accusations
Paul Street
The Democrats Do Their Job, Again
Vijay Prashad
The Cuban Revolution: Defying Imperialism From Its Backyard
Michael Hudson - Sharmini Peries
Orwellian Economics
Mark Ames
The Anonymous Blacklist Promoted by the Washington Post Has Apparent Ties to Ukrainian Fascism and CIA Spying
Erin McCarley
American Nazis and the Fight for US History
Yoav Litvin
Resist or Conform: Lessons in Fortitude and Weakness From the Israeli Left
Conn Hallinan
India & Pakistan: the Unthinkable
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Nativism on the Left – A Realer Smith
Joshua Sperber
Trump in the Age of Identity Politics
Brandy Baker
Jill Stein Sees Russia From Her House
Katheryne Schulz
Report from Santiago de Cuba: Celebrating Fidel’s Rebellious Life
Nelson Valdes
Fidel and the Good People
Norman Solomon
McCarthy’s Smiling Ghost: Democrats Point the Finger at Russia
Renee Parsons
The Snowflake Nation and Trump on Immigration
Margaret Kimberley
Black Fear of Trump
Michael J. Sainato
A Pruitt Running Through It: Trump Kills Nearly Useless EPA With Nomination of Oil Industry Hack
Ron Jacobs
Surviving Hate and Death—The AIDS Crisis in 1980s USA
David Swanson
Virginia’s Constitution Needs Improving
Louis Proyect
Narcos and the Story of Colombia’s Unhappiness
Paul Atwood
War Has Been, is, and Will be the American Way of Life…Unless?
John Wight
Syria and the Bodyguard of Lies
Richard Hardigan
Anti-Semitism Awareness Act: Senate Bill Criminalizes Criticism of Israel
Kathy Kelly
See How We Live
David Macaray
Trump Picks his Secretary of Labor. Ho-Hum.
Howard Lisnoff
Interview with a Political Organizer
Yves Engler
BDS and Anti-Semitism
Adam Parsons
Home Truths About the Climate Emergency
Brian Cloughley
The Decline and Fall of Britain
Eamonn Fingleton
U.S. China Policy: Is Obama Schizoid?
Graham Peebles
Worldwide Air Pollution is Making us Ill
Joseph Natoli
Fake News is Subjective?
Andre Vltchek
Tough-Talking Philippine President Duterte
Binoy Kampmark
Total Surveillance: Snooping in the United Kingdom
Guillermo R. Gil
Vivirse la película: Willful Opposition to the Fiscal Control Board in Puerto Rico
Patrick Bond
South Africa’s Junk Credit Rating was Avoided, But at the Cost of Junk Analysis
Clancy Sigal
Investigate the Protesters! A Trial Balloon Filled With Poison Gas
Pierre Labossiere – Margaret Prescod
Human Rights and Alternative Media Delegation Report on Haiti’s Elections
Charles R. Larson
Review:  Helon Habila’s The Chibok Girls: the Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria
David Yearsley
Brahms and the Tears of Britain’s Oppressed
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail