Hunt for Snowden Raises International Tensions

by Barry Sheppard

June 26, 2013

As of this writing, Edward Snowden remains in the transit area of the Moscow airport, and Washington is stepping up its threats against China and Russia for not turning him over to the U.S.

Secretary of State John Kerry said that China’s decision to allow Snowden to leave Hong Kong would “without question” affect U.S.-China relations and “have consequences.”

Meanwhile, Hong Kong authorities are demanding that the U.S. come clean concerning its massive surveillance of, and hacking into, all electronic data concerning government and business transactions in Hong Kong, which is a center for such electronic traffic for all of China.

Snowden’s exposure of these attacks has received wide publicity in China while infuriating the Obama administration by undercutting Washington’s assertions that China was engaged in such hacking of U.S. government and business secrets.

Once it was known that Snowden was in the airport in Moscow, Kerry turned his fire on Russia, demanding that Russia seize the whistle-blower and turn him over to the U.S. for prosecution under the 1917 Espionage Act, to be shut up in prison for life.

Russian President Putin said no.

Snowden has applied for political asylum in Ecuador and possibly other countries. Frothing at the mouth, the White House has warned Latin American countries not to grant Snowden asylum or face serious “consequences.”

Kerry had the gall to claim that Russia was obligated by “law” to turn Snowden over. Whose “law”? The law is what the U.S. says it is.

We have the spectacle of the U.S. threatening Russia, China, and Latin America while sputtering with impotent rage.

Ecuador’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, speaking while on a diplomatic trip to Vietnam, criticized the U.S. for its pursuit of Snowden. “The one who is denounced pursues the denouncer,” he said. “The man who tries to provide light and transparency to issues that affect everyone is pursued by those who should be giving explanations about the denunciations that have been presented.”

The wounded beast, its vast programs of spying on every telephone call made in the U.S. and its monitoring of electronic communications worldwide exposed by Snowden, remains dangerous. Already there are calls by some politicians to send in the Navy Seals to capture Snowden.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the fact that Snowden sought refuge in China, Russia and Ecuador indicated “his true motive throughout has been to injure the national security of the United States.”

The White House attacks on China, Russia and Ecuador are reminiscent of the rhetoric of the Cold War.

This appeal to anti-communism is part of the all-out effort by both the Republicans and Democrats to deflect discussion inside the U.S. away from what Snowden exposed, to Snowden the traitor and criminal.

The capitalist media with very few timid exceptions has gone all out in support of this bipartisan effort. The media has completely dropped discussion of the attack on the rights of all Americans Snowden exposed. Instead we are being bombarded with outright lies from Obama that the rights of all U.S. citizens are being protected, to concentration on “where’s Snowden?” and incessant assertions that Snowden is a traitor and criminal.

The Big Lie is being repeated over and over that what Snowden exposed will result in “Americans being killed” in Obama’s words. This is being hammered home without even the slightest attempt to connect what Snowden actually revealed to any possible harm to U.S. citizens.

But as Nazi propaganda chief Goebbels famously said, by incessantly repeating a Big Lie, it comes to be believed.

It is having an effect. But there are some indications that many are beginning to see through this Big Lie. When Democratic Party leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi, recently told a meeting of rank and file Democrats that Snowden was a criminal who must be prosecuted, she was booed.

Also, in the one month, from May to June, that witnessed Snowden’s exposures, Obama’s approval rating dropped 8 percentage points. Among young people, who had been disproportionately in Obama’s favor, the drop was 17 percent. Young people especially don’t like their tweets, Facebook pages, phone calls and emails being swept up by the NSA.

The ruling class is going all out to get Snowden, as part of a broader campaign against whistle-blowers who expose war crimes, vast Big Brother surveillance, and so forth.

If Snowden “gets away with it” – that is if he is not killed or imprisoned – the powers that be fear others may follow in his footsteps.

There are also threats to journalists who report the whistle-blower’s exposures. We saw the massive spying on Associate Press reporters, in search of a “leaker.”

Already, there are voices in Congress that Glen Greenwald, the reporter who broke the news of Snowden’s exposures to the Guardian and the Washington Post, should also be charged under the Espionage Act.

Recently there has been another exposure, not from Snowden, but from McClatchy News, of how far the pursuit of leaks has extended. This too came from leaks.

Following Bradley Manning’s exposure of U.S. war crimes, the White House initiated a program called “Insider Threat,” that forces government employees to spy on each other and report any “suspicious” behavior. It even encourages penalties against employees who fail to report what they see.

What’s most amazing about what McClatchy News reports is that the hunt for leakers goes way beyond disclosing classified information to disclosing to the public anything that a government department wants to hide.

Insider Threat covers not only the NSA and the Pentagon, but departments like the Peace Corp, the Social Security Administration, and the Departments of Education and Agriculture. As part of the program staffers at the Departments of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have taken an online tutorial called “Treason 101.”

What are the suspicious activities to be on the lookout for? The Department of Education has told its employees “certain life experiences … might turn a trusted user into an insider threat.” These experiences include “stress, divorce, financial problems or frustrations with co-workers or the organization.”

Any employee who notices such symptoms in another employee must report her or him.

Other symptoms of a potential leaker is someone who reads the satirical newspaper “The Onion” on lunch break or isn’t “cheery” enough.

Under Insider Threat, leaks of any information, classified or not, is considered “espionage.”

A Pentagon strategy document instructs superiors in other government departments to “Hammer this fact home … leaking is tantamount to aiding enemies of the United States.”

McClatchy News warns, “The [Insider Threat] program could make it easier for the government stifle the flow of unclassified and potentially vital information to the public, while creating toxic work environments poisoned by unfounded suspicions and spurious investigations.”

Barry Sheppard is a member of Solidarity in the Bay Area. He has written a two-volume political biography about his time as a leading member of the Socialist Workers Party. He writes a weekly letter from the U.S. for the Australian Green Left Weekly and Socialist Alternative magazine, where this article also appears.