Cold war: U.S. tells Russia to give back Snowden, or else

Imagine how much worse U.S./Russian relations might be right now if we hadn’t had that “reset.”

Does this mean Snowden really did get on a plane to Russia? Because if it turns out he didn’t and the whole Russia-to-Cuba-to-Ecuador thing was just a ruse, then we should dismantle the NSA on principle. If they can’t locate America’s most wanted man, who can’t bear to be apart from his computer, after he’s absconded with a treasure trove of intelligence, then they’re not so useful that we need to keep this eye in the sky afloat.


“They are on notice with respect to our desires,” Kerry said. “It would be deeply troubling if they have adequate notice and notwithstanding that they make a willful decision to ignore that and not live within the standards of the law.

The U.S. has transferred seven prisoners to Russia over the last two years, Kerry said, and the U.S. expects reciprocity. He also took a shot at China and Russia’s treatment of freedom of speech online…

A State Department official said Monday that as far as the U.S. government knows, Snowden is still in Russia and while the State Department is frantically contacting several governments about Snowden, Russia is the primary focus. The State Department is laying out a range of consequences for the Russians if they don’t cooperate and the Russians seem to be holding Snowden in Moscow while they consider their response to Washington, the official said…

To drive home that point, several senior officials have reached out to their Russian counterparts over the last 24 hours. FBI Director Robert Mueller has called his Russian counterpart at the FSB twice today, an administration official said Monday. Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and Ambassador to Russia Mike McFaul, a former senior White House official, have also been working the issue hard with their Russian contacts, the official said.

If I were Putin I’d hand him over, after “debriefing” him and his hard drives thoroughly, of course. What benefit is there to holding him once you’ve gotten what you need from him? They’ve already scored big propaganda points by humiliating Obama and we do, of course, have ways of making life more difficult for Moscow if they drag this out. Better to give him up as a “goodwill” gesture, to ensure that we’ll continue to extradite prisoners that they want and, maybe, be a bit more conciliatory on Syria than we’ve been lately. Frankly, Putin might relish the thought of “partnering” with Obama in seeing someone viewed by many Americans as a heroic dissident sent to prison. That’ll come in handy the next time the State Department accuses Moscow of taking political prisoners and persecuting regime critics.


First, though, comes the “extraction.” And it is, almost certainly, coming:

“Russian intelligence and counter-intelligence will have a lot to ask such a well-informed person. I have no doubt that this will be done,” a Russian special services veteran told the Interfax news agency on Sunday on condition of anonymity.

“I am sure that Snowden will have had a busy evening and a sleepless night,” the source added of the American’s reported stayover Sunday night in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport after landing from Hong Kong.

“Snowden presents a lot of interest for the FSB (security service). He can give information on technical aspects of intercepting data,” said Russian security expert and commentator for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper Pavel Felgenhauer.

“A debriefing in the presence of technical specialists takes a lot of time,” Felgenhauer told AFP, suggesting that interviews with Russian secret services could take place in a third country.

I can’t think of a reason why ruthless intel services like Russia’s and China’s wouldn’t be as rough as they need to be with this guy to get him to turn over what he has. He’s already revealed that the NSA spied on Medvedev at the G20 summit a few years ago and hacked into Chinese computers. Both regimes now have a national interest in finding out what he knows, which they can sell to their respective publics just in case the locals take an interest Snowden’s fate. This is why, for the life of me, I can’t understand why Snowden’s defenders insist that he hasn’t compromised national security in what he’s done. Even if that’s true so far, he claims to know much more than what he’s leaked; Glenn Greenwald’s giddily declared many times that more leaks are coming. National intelligence sources are telling ABC this afternoon that, in fact, if Snowden made public everything he knows, it could deal a “potentially devastating blow” to U.S. security. Follow the last link and read at least the section titled “Technical Roadmap of the U.S. Surveillance Network.” If they’re telling the truth, which is debatable, the security lapse in making this stuff available to an IT guy is unimaginably gigantic.


Is there any scenario, realistically, in which Russia or China or whoever ends up getting him doesn’t put the screws to him to find out what he knows? If someone fled from Russia or China to the U.S. with the kinds of secrets about them that Snowden has about the U.S., wouldn’t you hope/expect the FBI or CIA would “debrief” that guy at length? Either you believe (a) that Snowden doesn’t know much and therefore can’t hurt U.S. interests — and I’m not sure why anyone would think that at this point — or (b) that Snowden knows a lot and therefore it’s extremely dangerous for him to be placing himself within arm’s reach of Russian and Chinese intelligence. Either the whole FISA/PRISM/Snowden storyline is no big deal because it’s all small potatoes or it’s a very big deal, in which case we have a very, very big national-security problem. Pick one.

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David Strom 8:00 AM | July 18, 2024