Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Snowden-storm

What's this? Yes, that's right--it's time for a current events post.

Today's current event: Ed Snowden leaves Hong Kong. And oh, how he did leave:

HONG KONG — The Hong Kong government announced on Sunday afternoon that it had allowed the departure from its territory of Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who has acknowledged disclosing classified documents about United States government surveillance of Internet and telephone communications around the world.
The basic timing of this is that the U.S. last week asked Hong Kong to arrest Snowden. But, the Hong Kong government said, the U.S. didn't put the cover sheet on its TPS form. That meant that rather than being on a list that said "please arrest me when I try to leave the country," Snowden was able to hop on a commercial flight.

Hong Kong also managed to gently extend a middle finger at the NSA in the process:
Meanwhile, the HKSAR Government has formally written to the US Government requesting clarification on earlier reports about the hacking of computer systems in Hong Kong by US government agencies. The HKSAR Government will continue to follow up on the matter so as to protect the legal rights of the people of Hong Kong.

Very subtle, Hong Kong. Very subtle. So Hong Kong avoids having to deal with a fugitive they aren't particularly happy with, and also gets a little payback for being on the business end of some spy operations.

Snowden, of course, is on his way to Cuba and eventually Venezuela, according to Russian media reports on Sunday night. And that choice of cities is just one symptom of why I think his actions are problematic. Strictly speaking, he is not a whistle-blower; he did not reveal any illegal practices.

There is a strong argument that the troubling aspects if PRISM--spying on innocent Americans, for one--are unethical. And I can see why someone's conscience might drive him to tell the world about it.

But shedding light on U.S. hacking in China just seems like pot-stirring to me. Yes, the U.S. spies on other countries. That is neither shocking nor revelatory. And it came at an extremely politically sensitive time between America and China. It's hard to defend revealing all that in the name of liberty or justice.

Traveling to so many countries on the Cold War Hit Parade en route to avoiding prosecution doesn't seem like the smartest public relations move to me, either. It's hard to come across as anything other than a fugitive when the only places you're fleeing are ones that are, to some degree or another, hostile to your home country. (I won't even talk about how WikiLeaks is involved now.)

Venezuela, if that is indeed Snowden's final destination, seems to tick a lot of important boxes for him. It is a democracy, in name if not in fact. It is a comfortable place; there are, for instance, beaches. And its government has just enough animosity toward the U.S. to accept him as a political refugee instead of a fugitive.

So, Edward Snowden: congratulations on leaving the Special Administrative Region. It was fun having you here, creating a spy novel here in our quiet neck of the woods. (By the way, great premise for a novel: a guy carrying sensitive data is fleeing from intelligence agents. Everyone wants a piece of him. But to get to safety, he has to spend a night in a Moscow airport in transit. Go!) But I have a feeling the fun is really only getting started.

1 comment:

Pete Valavanis said...

perhaps those are the only countries that will take him. why would an ally take him?
i'm glad he did what he did. as far as i'm concerned, we need more whistle blowers and pot-stirrers.