March 20, 2017
There are many who may have already forgotten all about Edward Snowden. However, last year’s movie “Snowden,” directed by one of the best-known Hollywood film directors Oliver Stone, and the recently published book “How America Lost Its Secrets: Edward Snowden, the Man and the Theft” by a veteran U.S. investigator of intelligence matters, professor Edward Jay Epstein, brought the major elements of his life story back into the public eye.
For Oliver Stone as well as for many other American intellectuals, Edward Snowden is the prototypical hero, an individual who, in defense of basic human rights of all, fearlessly confronted the bureaucratic intelligence Leviathan, which has ubiquitously sought to exercise surveillance and control over the most private aspects of the lives of ordinary citizens. Snowden leaked to the journalists Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald, and Barton Gellman incontrovertible evidence that the U.S. Agency for National Security (NSA), whose very existence was for years publicly denied, had the capability to record and store all telephone and internet communications in the world, whether or not these communications involved the U.S. or non-U.S. citizens. This was the essence of the infamous program PRISM. And, in addition, Snowden’s documents demonstrated that, through the decisions of the so-called FISA courts, the NSA forced major U.S. phone service providers to turn over to it the listings of their customers’ phone calls.
However, as Epstein’s book carefully documents, Snowden is not unambiguously a heroic whistler-blower as he is being portrayed by Stone and others. His story is much more complex and mysterious.
First of all, as the subsequent U.S. intelligence community investigations determined, Snowden took with himself about 1.5 million documents, whereas he leaked to the journalists only 58.000. What happened to the rest of documents? According to Epstein, the vast majority of the documents had nothing to do with the NSA programs on the surveillance of U.S. citizens, but concerned the secret foreign operations, the sources and methods, not only of the “queen of the U.S. intelligence,” the NSA, but also of the CIA, FBI, DIA, and the rest of 17 U.S. intelligence services.
Secondly, as Epstein quite convincingly demonstrates in his book, “somebody” assisted Snowden to get on the Aeroflot [Russian state-owned airline] flight from Hong Kong to Moscow, even though he had neither a valid passport nor a mandatory Russian visa. Several months later, the Russian president Vladimir Putin publicly stated that he gave the permission for Snowden to come to Russia, where he later received a political asylum and where he lives and works at this time. Did Putin do this because he was concerned about the violations of a whistle-blower’s rights, or because of those one million documents that Snowden had with him? And why did Snowden not give those documents to independent journalists when he had a chance? Perhaps they were for “Russian eyes” only?
Epstein also shows that even Snowden’s time in Hong Kong is veiled in mystery. It is still not publicly known where he spent the first ten days after his arrival until he checked into a hotel from where he soon afterward contacted Poitras, Greenwald, and Gellman. According to Epstein, for ten days, Snowden did not use his credit card or his phone or internet account. Still, he had to eat and live someplace. Perhaps the Chinese intelligence service gave him a helping hand?
Be that as it may, it is very interesting that soon after Snowden’s arrival in Moscow, there began an uninterrupted series of the Russian foreign policy successes. The geostrategically important Crimean peninsula, which was expected to be the main prize of the violent pro-Western coup d’état in Ukraine with the aim of installing NATO troops there, was in a blitzkrieg fashion taken over by Russia without a shot being fired. Not only were the Russian navy and airforce not kicked out of the Black Sea (which was the covert goal of the entire operation), but they have since projected their power and extended their influence into the Mediterranean through the intervention in Syria and now, evidently, also in Libya.
The European Union found itself dealing with a whole set of internal and external challenges, which are putting even its continued survival in the existing form under a question mark. And, of course, the almost daily scandals in the U.S. regarding the alleged Russian influence on the political scene and on the president Donald Trump have created the atmosphere of utter confusion, political disorientation, and paralysis of the system. Such a state of affairs has always been the ultimate goal of the best planned-out hostile counter-intelligence operations.
There is no evidence that Snowden is a Russian operative and we may never find out the full truth. However, his actions very much remind me of the actions of the U.S. scientists, the Communist party members and sympathizers, who, in the 1940s, passed on to the Russian intelligence the secret documents regarding the making of a nuclear bomb. Their actions directly led to the formation of a bipolar international order with the two nuclear super-powers presiding over the world. In my opinion, the actions of Snowden, by fatally subverting U.S. dominance in cyberspace, have, in a similar way, cemented the foundations for global multipolarity.
Translated into English by the author. Originally published in the independent Montenegrin political weekly Monitor, March 10, 2017.
Kovacevic on Geopolitics