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Snowden Escapes


Not so fast, but very furious – U.S. officials have been checked by the latest move on the part of the Russian government to grant Edward Snowden a year’s asylum. This is not so much cat and mouse as better feline against tricked feline, a combination of various animals and self-interested entities who want Snowden for various reasons. That said, having navigated the labyrinth that is Russian bureaucracy, Snowden finds himself with some paperwork and temporary sanctuary.

With that paperwork, Snowden neatly slipped out of Shremetyevo airport. Lawyer Anatoly Kucherena told AFP that, “Snowden has left Sheremetyevo airport. He has just been given a certificate that he has been awarded temporary asylum in Russia for one year.” He will be helped, according to his legal help, by “American friends”.

The timing of Snowden has been near meticulous. Disclosures have been scattered like well-timed gifts of merit. True, for a time, it looked like he had slipped in his estimation – the sharp thinking had been blunted after American power pressed, and to some extent succeeded, in encircling him. The Bolivian President Evo Morales fumed. The European authorities complied in attempting to search the plane flown by a sovereign head of state. But from the curiosity that is Sheremetyevo, he managed to resist and ultimately deflect those who so desperately wanted him.

White House spokesman Jay Carney had to put up a brave front, but claimed that the U.S. was “extremely disappointed.” The “reset” with Moscow is not quite setting according to plan. It was imperative now that Washington evaluate “the utility of a summit in light of this.”

Robert Menendez of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee had little patience, claiming that Snowden was “a fugitive who belongs in a United States courtroom, not a free man deserving of asylum in Russia.” Of course, Menendez is simply doing what his colleagues have had a compulsion doing: presume guilt, scream blue murder and hope for the worst.

Time and time again, Snowden’s disclosures have caught the clay-footed dunces in Washington unawares. The shadow of criminality is a long one – it stretches from Washington to Canberra, and bores its way through Europe. Rather than implicating Snowden, it does the opposite. It is the mirror of guilt for those in denial.

The latest was his revelations about XKeyscore, yet another NSA program that has involved the comprehensive collection of U.S. citizens’ data by means of mass retrieval. The Guardian duly reported that the mechanism allowed analysts to “search with no prior authorisation through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals.”

Surveillance, for the Washington establishment, is not as bad as all that – till the NSA admits it is, casting a good portion of egg at the face of those who should better. True, there is a betrayal here, but it tends to be closer to the sort Julian Assange has noted, that of the “young, technically minded”, the hope stuffed generation that wished Obamania was more than just a manic delusion. With that turkey consumed, we best look elsewhere.

The NSA’s own response in a statement asserts that, while Snowden is correct in terms of disclosing the data retrieval program, “the implication that NSA’s collection is arbitrary and unconstrained is false. NSA’s activities are focused and specifically deployed against – and only against – legitimate intelligence targets” (Washington Post, Jul 31). Presumably, friends and enemies are in the jumbled mix. They are not to know.

As if to cover its tracks, the NSA has also claimed that the operation is limited. XKeyscore is only used by “those personnel who require access for their assigned tasks.” Every well qualified thief needs a good crowbar and a few other handy implements.

The Obama security establishment has undergone a dramatic mummification. Snowden was good enough to remind us that the bandages were already well and truly applied. The tomb has been open. The bodies are turning to dust.

Snowden has also reminded his detractors about those “international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience” (Time, Jul 13). Nazi Germany’s officials were told of it, and several made the journey to the gallows for not abiding by them. The criminally delinquent detractors of a democratic state can also receive similar treatment. The legacy of the Nuremberg trials should impress themselves like streaks of thunder. Snowden “did what I believe right and began a campaign to correct this wrongdoing.”

He is not the only one to refer to the Nuremberg precedent in recent years. Lt. Ehren Watada of Washington State was of similar mind, refusing a deployment to Iraq in 2006 on the basis that the war was marred by illegality. Snowden has reached into the treasure trove of international law, as well as he might. The government of his home country has attempted to delegitimise him; why not return the favour by citing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which reminds us that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence”? And that is just the start.

In any case, we are bound to see a whole range of “revelations” (are we truly surprised anymore?) come March, when Glenn Greenwald will release his bomb heavy publication with Metropolitan Books. The publishing house has a record of releasing tomes that thumb the establishment with a degree of disdain. Brace yourselves.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:

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