NSA leaker Edward Snowden finally has a place to call home for a while. Yesterday, he received refugee status in Russia for the next year. So, he left Sheremyetyevo airport in Moscow and is now looking for a place to live and a job. Offers have poured in. The US government is upset, and repercussions against Russia loom. This is what happens when the unimportant is treated as though it mattered.
As a measure of how bothered the DC crowd is, consider this from New York’s liberal Senator Chuck Schumer, “Russia has stabbed us in the back and each day that Mr. Snowden is allowed to roam free is another twist of the knife. Others who have practiced civil disobedience in the past have stood up and faced the charges because they strongly believed in what they were doing. Mr. Snowden is a coward who has chosen to run.”
Well, he is a coward, but quite how Russia has stabbed America in the back is hard to say. Violating American espionage laws, as the US alleges Mr. Snowden did, is not against Russian law. Indeed, there is an entire intelligence apparatus there devoted to doing so. If a man from the FSB leaked 700,000 documents to Wikileaks and took refuge at JFK airport, he’d have asylum in minutes, with Senator Schumer leading the parade.
What Snowden did wasn’t really all that important to national security. What he leaked was old news to those who have been paying attention to the development of the American security state since the 1980s. The NSA has had the capacity to listen in on any electronic communication since at least the Reagan years.
What Mr. Snowden did achieve was bringing this open knowledge into open discussion. Hence, 75% of the American people think he did a good thing. America needs to talk about privacy and security needs goes the media meme.
The Washington big-shots, by treating this as a threat to American security, simply moved the story from page 34 to page 1. Perhaps, it is the post-0/11 reflex of the hawks to cast everything as a dire threat that needs a response. A wiser move (the owl position if that term can be used for one is not dovish on national security) would have been to issue a press release about the leaks that said “this is old news.” The American media would probably have lost interest in it by the week-end.
Instead, the country’s relationship with Russia is now as bad as it has ever been during the Obama years. Russia is not a friend of the US; countries don’t have friends. Instead, they have interests. And Russia is very important to the US. Start with a stockpile of about 10,000 nuclear warheads. While Washington and Moscow aren’t on the hair-trigger they were during the Cold War, the nuclear arsenals of both remain the biggest threat to global survival. Thermonuclear global warming hasn’t gone away simply because there is a McDonald’s in Moscow. Throw in a permanent seat on the UN Security Council (which comes with a veto), vast supplies of energy and minerals, a long border with another important power named China, and one starts to see that relations with Russia are more important than the Snowden Affair.
Of course, Washington isn’t going to see it that way. Demands to move the G-20 summit out of Russia are already flying around Capitol Hill. A one-on-one summit between Presidents Obama and Putin is likely off (neither man will miss the other, truth be told), and some want the US to boycott the Sochi Winter Olympics (boycotting the Moscow Games in 1980 proved nothing).
When this story first broke, this journal advised ignoring the whole thing and letting Mr. Snowden live in obscurity in Ecuador. “Told you so” feels rather hollow.