Edward Snowden has succeeded in igniting a debate about the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), but he’s also turned off a lot of otherwise sympathetic participants in that debate. And so it remains a toss-up as to whether there can be any real change for the better, and this great big question mark is a direct result of how Snowden and, to a lesser degree, his media flack, The Guardian‘s Glenn Greenwald, have comported themselves from Day One.
In this regard, yes, the NSA Debate and the Snowden Drama are inseparable, but only because his naivete, his glaring contradictions and erratic grandstanding have made it that way. This story really didn’t need a sacrificial hero because the functioning of the government’s foreign intelligence apparatus is compelling enough on its own to spark a serious conversation about whether it’s out of control or whether it should be preserved and expanded.
Instead, Snowden’s actions continue to raise questions about his veracity and motives, practically on a day-to-day basis, leaving us wondering whether his interpretations of what he had observed within the intelligence community are objective and truthful, and therefore whether we’re conducting this debate using honest, rational terms. Likewise, we’re also justified in determining whether Snowden is a crusader for the greater good of the United States, or whether his goal is to burn down the village in order to save it — whether he’s just an angry, megalomaniacal nihilist-hacker who wants to punish America for its sins.
If the more dubious options are indeed the case, we need to be extraordinarily cautious about feeding this juggernaut, considering where it could lead us, because it’s one thing to debate and reform the system (which I fully support), but it’s another thing entirely to light a match and perform an action movie slow-mo walk away from the mega-explosion. Specifically, the goal should be to improve government, not to indiscriminately undermine the broader functioning of the United States. There are have been so many indications that Snowden is doing the latter, given his leaks about the G20, the hacking operations in China and so forth. What’s next?
We recently learned that in conjunction with seeking asylum in Russia, a move that, itself, is a serious head-scratcher, Snowden has also retained a Russian lawyer: a man named Anatoly Kucherena. Fine, in and of itself. The man needs a lawyer. But it’s an utterly bizarre move considering that Kucherena reportedly sits on the Public Council for Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). Until 1995, the FSB was known as the Federal Counter-Intelligence Service (FSK). Before that, it was two agencies: the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and the Federal Agency of Government Communications and Information (FAPSI). And before that? It was the Committee of State Security. The acronym: KGB.
In other words, Snowden, who claims to be highly suspicious if not totally disdainful of spy agencies, has hired a lawyer with direct ties to the spy agency formerly known as the KGB. But there’s more. Kucherena is connected with President Vladimir Putin, who, in turn, was a lieutenant colonel with the KGB earlier in his career and, to date, doesn’t have a stellarhuman rights record. Kucherena was also the lawyer for a pro-Putin filmmaker named Nikita Mikhalkov who publicly supported a plan for Putin to remain in office even after his term had expired.
There’s still more. Kucherena is the founder of the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation, a conservative think-tank that was established in part by the Krelim as a PR front. The institute is essentially a form of pay-back against western nations that have questioned Russia’s elections and human rights record. It’s not a surprise considering how Kucherena has been critical of protesters who called for the overturning of dubious election results.
On top of all of that, Kucherena has expressed public support for banning internet anonymizers: software that’s used to mask a user’s IP address. This is particularly hilarious considering how Snowden and his acolytes have probably used similar technology, as well as encryption, to safeguard their privacy.
And now he’s Snowden’s lawyer.
Did Snowden bother to check out this guy’s resume, or even run a basic Google search? Oh wait. Google is in league with NSA, so maybe not. Nevertheless, once again, we’re left to question why Snowden would take these kinds of actions, especially knowing that Putin and his allies are clearly no saints when it comes to human rights violations.
Now, couple all of this with what Glenn Greenwald said about Snowden’s “dead man switch.” Snowden apparently told Greenwald that there are many more documents in the hacker’s possession that could do serious harm to the United States, and if Snowden is assassinated or tortured, those documents would be released. Greenwald added that the United States should be “on its knees every day begging that nothing happen to Snowden” because Snowden could “cause harm to the U.S. government in a single minute than any other person has ever had.”
And now Snowden is being advised and aided by a Putin crony. Strange bedfellows — that is if we’re to believe Snowden’s anti-surveillance posture. (Based on his old internet chats, he used to be quite a surveillance supporter who thought one leaker should’ve been “shot in the balls.”) So at this point, Snowden and his new pals in Russian intelligence retain purview over documents that could do more damage to the United States than anyone else has done — ever.
Could we have entirely avoided the extraneous histrionics and still conducted an important debate about surveillance? Of course we could have but that’s not what happened. At this point, it’d be quite a relief to button this up and carry on. But the only thing that will achieve such a resolution is if Snowden were to do the right thing and turn himself in. Otherwise, we have no choice but to keep tabs on a loose cannon who’s making friends in questionable circles while threatening the United States with his explosive stash of stolen documents.