As more data enters the public domain we are still trying to get our heads round the coincidence of Edward Snowden having headed for Hong Kong a few weeks ago and that the Prism news broke bang on time for the China/USA cyber-security summit in Palm Springs California.
Being a systems administrator, Snowden had access to many much more devastating CIA and NSA secrets – in fact he has already said so – are these up his sleeve or someone else’s for use as bargaining chips later with China and/or the USA?
As for the Hong Kong and USA extradition treaty it’s dependent on China giving the nod (which we assume it won’t) and is thus not worth much.
Even if he were extradited there are billions of footprints in cyberspace to show he didn’t make it all up etc and that once they are looked at you can bet his legal team will be able to prove the NSA and the CIA have not abided by the US constitution – for example, how do you differentiate your data harvesting between local citizens in foreign countries and US citizens living overseas? You can’t.
So the data collection must have breached the US constitution on that count alone and there are apparently other counts (eg the Pentagon papers case involving the New York Times and rights under the First Amendment) that defence lawyers would relish referring to. The last thing Mr Clapper will then want is a trial – he might end up in the dock.
We are rarely if ever on the side of conspiracy theorists but there may yet be more revelations about this unnecessary saga which has changed course and emphasis daily since it first broke last week.
For China to deny Snowden’s extradition on human rights grounds would be a real Agatha Christie style denouement and a thunder clap for Mr Clapper and the US administration.
Which way this turns in the next few days and weeks is anybody’s guess but it looks increasingly in China’s hands rather than those of the USA whether or not China is challenged as having orchestrated or somehow facilitated Mr Snowden’s defection in the first place which looks doubtful so needs consideration when in a smoke and prism mirrors scenario.
The only people looking good at the moment are the Chinese who have been so seemingly hypocritically criticised for their cyber-gymnastics. It looks like more is to be leaked soon – who to believe will get ever more difficult given the immediate unnecessary denials of what so many know and can prove has been going on for years.
No matter what the outcome of all this is, the properly controlled legitimate harvesting of data to prevent terrorist atrocities has to be a good thing whether or not a 29 year old IT guy who is prepared to breach his contract and maybe do worse doesn’t agree with it – as we have said publicly since 2012 most countries have been doing this for ages and as long as it never gets used for corrupt or immoral purposes that should be fine – and that statement is a huge leap in faith for mankind!
What started out as the Prism scandal could get much worse than the Wikileaks scandal (or even the planned release of “The Burlington Files” by us!) if Snowden starts releasing top secret stuff that he presumably had access to.
Just to emphasize it once more, as a systems administrator Snowden must have had access to data that is currently of much more importance to the USA and its allies than Prism which was already in the public domain anyway. He could probably access more than his ultimate boss Mr Clapper which may explain away of some of Mr Clapper’s ire as he may not have fully realised junior ranking officers such as systems administrators had such authority.
If anyone starts releasing really secret data then Snowden will justifiably be vilified by the media and more lynch mobs will turn out to have their say. They won’t get him though because he is already waiting in the departure lounge he selected many weeks ago.
Also the US Government may find that the Pentagon papers case becomes helpful to them as opposed to a thorn in their side as they can pre-empt publication of anything that could cause them “grave and irreparable damage”. The trouble is that case was in 1971, long before the worldwide web we know today existed and its principles may need testing again.
As for countries that would supposedly welcome Snowden he faces a dilemma. Both China and Russia have been mentioned but if he is as principled as he claims to be he’ll soon want to squeal on them about something or other we all knew about anyway and then where can he run to assuming he can escape in the first place? Other countries allied to the USA (eg in NATO, the EU or the British Commonwealth) will have known about Prism etc for many years so they may pretend to have been offended to mollycoddle their voters for a couple of weeks at most but certainly won’t want to offer Snowden any form of safe harbour.
Countries neutral to the USA (like Ecuador currently sheltering Julian Assange in their UK embassy) are unlikely to help him once his revelations are denounced as treasonous by the majority of US voters.
So it looks like Mr Snowden may have to take off for Iran or North Korea if he oversteps the line and public support dissipates into rage at any real treasonous revelations threatened or delivered. The question then arises how long would he be safe in either of those tourist hotspots?
No one is going to come out of this smelling of roses.
This article was first published on 10th June 2013 and updated on 13th June 2013.