Second Lieutenant Hagen: You think it’s a coup?
Major Otto Ernst Remer: Of that I’m certain. I just don’t know which side we’re on.
That’s a line from the movie Valkyrie, and it’s kind of how I feel when following the Edward Snowden/NSA story.
I’ve avoided writing much about the Snowden drama because there’s something that stinks about it — neither side is entirely believable or credible. This doesn’t exactly help take the smell away:
Russia has offered to consider an asylum request from the US whistleblower Edward Snowden, in the Kremlin’s latest move to woo critics of the west.
Snowden fled the United States before leaking the details of a top-secret US surveillance programme to the Guardian this month. He is currently believed to be in Hong Kong, but has reportedly changed hotels to keep his location secret.
Fearing US retaliation, Snowden said at the weekend that “my predisposition is to seek asylum in a country with shared values”, citing Iceland as an example. He defended his decision to flee to Hong Kong by citing its relative freedom compared with mainland China.
Snowden is not known to have made any asylum requests, including to Russia. Yet speaking to the Russian newspaper Kommersant, Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, said: “If such an appeal is given, it will be considered. We’ll act according to facts.”
If Snowden does in fact disdain government snooping, there would be no place better to go than a country run by a former KGB agent. Wait, never mind.
President Obama told the Russians he’d have more flexibility to deal with them after the 2012 election, but maybe somebody will beat him to it.
Also, Russian leadership might embrace people who blow the whistle on foreign governments, but domestic whistleblowers aren’t well received:
Russia has a roundly poor reputation for human rights and freedom of speech, with people regularly persecuted for their political beliefs. Dozens have been arrested for protesting against Putin, and the president’s top critics continue to face the decision of whether to flee the country or end up in jail.
The country’s own whistleblowers suffer harrowing fates. Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who revealed a multimillion-dollar corruption scheme involving officials from the interior ministry and tax police, was arrested and later died in jail after being refused medical attention. His body also showed signs of torture. Alexey Navalny, a prominent anti-corruption activist, is currently on trial on charges widely believed to be politically motivated.
I’m going to wait until the facts are in before calling Snowden a hero, a traitor, or anything in between. Like I said, this doesn’t pass the smell test. Others halfway around the world wonder the same thing:
Edward Snowden, the U.S. government contractor who was identified as the source of recent disclosures about the secret National Security Agency data-gathering initiative, PRISM, has fled to the Chinese-owned island of Hong Kong. Chinese netizens, who are very familiar with living under government surveillance, have expressed admiration for Snowden revealing the secrets, but are more skeptical about his decision to come knocking on their door.
A lot of things here don’t add up. Pardon me for taking a “wait and see” approach.
Bonus coverage: Here’s David “Greasy” Axelrod referring to Snowden as “a whistleblower who then blew the country”: