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Can Wikileaks Save Snowden?


On Sunday, June 23 Edward Snowden left Hong Kong on a commercial flight to Moscow.  He was thought to be planning to leave Russia for Cuba on Monday, June 24, however Snowden never appeared for his flight. Snowden’s current whereabouts are unknown, but Julian Assange stated that Snowden is “safe and healthy”.

The U.S. government’s pouting over Hong Kong and Russia’s disobedience of Washington’s orders vividly demonstrates the U.S. government’s attitude that the U.S. owns the world. Somehow U.S. officials can’t understand why these nations wouldn’t respect “the rule of law”. This despite the fact that it’s Obama who should be tried at the International Criminal Court for the conduct of his “War on Terror”.

The U.S. government had increased their pressure on Hong Kong to arrest Snowden after formally charging him with espionage on June 14.  Yet in the end the Hong Kong authorities said the request the U.S. made for Snowden’s capture didn’t fully comply with legal requirements under the law and legally Hong Kong could not stop him from boarding the flight.

Snowden reportedly asked the Hong Kong government if he would be able to leave the city freely, if he wanted. An individual identifying himself as a representative of the Hong Kong government told Snowden that he was free to leave and he should leave.

Allowing Snowden to leave was the best choice for Hong Kong. Snowden’s extradition battle would have put Hong Kong authorities in a difficult position: Snowden’s disclosures that the NSA hacked Chinese computers, Chinese cell companies (gaining access to millions of text messages), Chinese Universities, and Chinese network“backbones” helped earn him the sympathy of some in Hong Kong and Mainland China. Popular support would have forced Hong Kong officials not to overtly bow to U.S. pressure for Snowden’s extradition. Yet the entanglement of the U.S. and Chinese economies would make it impossible for the Chinese government to risk seriously damaging their relations with the U.S. For this reason Hong Kong wouldn’t have been able to ignore the request to extradite Snowden indefinitely.

Had Snowden stayed in Hong Kong he would have faced a lengthy court battle and eventually a likely extradition back to the U.S. Remember that Snowden originally stated“My intention is to ask the court and people of Hong Kong to decide my fate.” So why did Snowden suddenly lose what he previously called his “faith in Hong Kong’s rule of law”?  He started talking with people from Wikileaks and realized he wouldn’t be safe in Hong Kong.

My colleague and I have been writing for weeks about how Snowden should have “not chosen Hong Kong”, that instead ‘Ecuador would have been a much better choice’, and that Snowden “should’ve worked with Wikileaks” rather than Glenn Greenwald.  It seems Snowden has finally figured out whom he can trust.

A perfect example of the difference between Wikileaks and other media outlets is a story which came out on June 21 about how an Icelandic businessman who formerly ran DataCell, which handles donations for Wikileaks, had chartered a private jet for Snowden at a cost of $240,000.

Well one question one might ask is why didn’t The Guardian offer to pay for the jet? How much money did the paper make off this story? How much did Glenn Greenwald personally benefit from this story of a lifetime falling into his lap despite his best efforts to fumble it?  His June 9th article, which names Snowden as the NSA leaker, was shared almost a quarter of a million times on Facebook.  One would think both he andThe Guardian owe Snowden something for this colossal story.

Sure, Greenwald goes on the T.V. news shows and acts like a vicious guard dog for Snowden, but he doesn’t actually do anything to protect him.  He didn’t persuade him not to go to Hong Kong, despite being a lawyer and it being relatively easy to look into Hong Kong’s extradition record to the U.S. He didn’t make sure his source was in a safe place before Snowden was named.

To people who say Snowden is a “big boy” and can make his own decisions, would you really allow someone to make a decision that has the very real possibility to unnecessarily destroy their lives without objecting?  I certainly don’t think it’s an ethical thing to do.  One must remember the isolation of someone who leaks government information.  Snowden literally had no one to count on and he reached out to Greenwald, who just treated him as a footstool to allow him to grab greater name recognition.

To those who state Greenwald could risk jail time for helping Snowden I simply point to Assange and the long line of activists that came before him. It should be obvious that doing the right thing sometimes means risking jail time.

The Guardian is as liberal as mainstream papers come, yet they hung Snowden out to dry. No one would put their ass on the line for Snowden who himself was willing to sacrifice everything for the people of the world for no personal gain. The traditional press should be dead to leakers.  Leaking has become too dangerous and traditional papers are too firmly embedded in the power structure.

In direct contrast to The Guardian, Baltazar Garzon, the legal director of Wikileaks, stated that “The WikiLeaks legal team and I are interested in preserving Mr. Snowden’s rights and protecting him as a person.” Kristinn Hrafnsson, Wikileaks spokesperson, stated, “[Snowden’s] revelations have been explosive and extremely important, and we’ve offered our full help and assistance.”

The people behind Wikileaks actually care about their sources and are concerned about them as human beings because they care about making the world a better place.  The organization is firmly committed to making the centers of power more transparent to ordinary people.

The Wikileaks team was composed of trustworthy and knowledgeable people who Snowden could count on for good advice. They have powerful legal resources and are able to work with governments hostile to the U.S. in an attempt to provide the possibility of safety for leakers. Wikileaks investigated possible places for Snowden to gain asylum, they helped Snowden apply for asylum in Ecuador, they are attempting to negotiate his safe passage through countries outside the U.S. sphere, and Sarah Harrison (Wikileaks legal advisor) met Snowden in Hong Kong and accompanied him to Moscow.

Another example of Greenwald’s failure is his admission “that we withheld the majority of the things [Snowden] gave us”.  What did Snowden risk his life for if The Guardian won’t even publish the leaks? It’s true that Snowden wanted some secrets withheld to prevent harming U.S. “national interests”, yet there is reason to believe Snowden wants more of the leak to get out. Julian Assange announced Wikileaks may release more of Snowden’s revelations.

There is a powerful lesson here that Wikileaks, a non-profit organization composed of almost all volunteers and run entirely on donations can do things that a mainstream paper with enormous resources can’t. (The company that owns The Guardian is worth£254 million.)  This is because Wikileaks is based on the values of justice and solidarity instead of simply making money for its owners.

One should have no doubt about what a serious threat Wikileaks poses for those who wish to control the world by preventing information from reaching the public. Simply look at the ruthless attacks against the organization.

There have been threats by high level members of the Obama administration,assassination threats directed at Wikileaks staffers, and very serious cyber attacks, which may have been undertaken by a large organization—possibly even the U.S. government.  There has also been defection of key service providers, a serious economic strangulation with Visa, Matercard, and Paypal all disallowing their services for donations to Wikileaks, and of course the prosecution of Assange and Snowden, as well as the torture of Bradley Manning.

If Snowden makes it to a safe country and is granted asylum it will be despite Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian. Wikileaks may save Snowden’s life. But Snowden’s asylum would also be a huge victory for international solidarity with Hong Kong, Russia, Wikileaks, and Latin American countries all possibly playing a role.  All these players would have taken some risk by standing up to American power.

And even more inspiring is the role that ordinary people would have played by donating to Wikileaks, by rallying for Snowden in Hong Kong, and through the powerful social movements of Latin America, which have driven numerous governments of the region leftward. These movements created an inspiring place where it’s possible for people like Snowden to escape the violence of the U.S. government.  Snowden’s asylum will also be one more bit of evidence that the U.S. doesn’t own the world, and that forces opposing U.S. power may be gathering strength.

Paul Gottinger is a writer from Madison, WI where he edits the left issues journal  He can be reached at

Paul Gottinger is a journalist based in Madison, WI whose work focuses on the Middle East. He can be reached via Twitter @paulgottinger or email:

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