Edward Snowden is still the top news story this morning. It’s starting to look as if he made a mistake by going to Hong Kong, unless his goal was to gain asylum from the Chinese government. Hong Kong is apparently not interested in fighting an extradition request from the U.S. But it’s also possible he saw Hong Kong as a springboard to other places in Asia where he could hide.
In a comment about the case published this morning, my colleague James Fallows brought up a salient point about Hong Kong: it isn’t a sovereign country, and remains very much a part of the People’s Republic of China — a country which notably lacks free speech or any right of political dissent. And while Hong Kong has a different currency, political structure, and legal system from the mainland, divisions between the two are actually far murkier than Snowden’s explanation indicates.
Hong Kong is to some extent in control of its own legal decisions
But in the case of Edward Snowden, which is likely to involve an extradition request by the United States, the Basic Law is less clear. Hong Kong, unlike China, has an extradition arrangement with the United States. But China has the right to intercede in an extradition request if Beijing has an interest in “defense or foreign affairs.” In other words, if China wants to detain Snowden as a useful intelligence asset, Hong Kong couldn’t legally do much about it. And that illustrates an important part of Hong Kong’s current situation: its free speech and political dissent really only go as far as Beijing lets it.
According to Schiavenza,
it’s become increasingly clear that Snowden’s decision to go to Hong Kong was a serious miscalculation. The idiosyncratic territory may in some ways be a libertarian paradise of free speech, robust media, and low taxes, but is in no way independent of China. If Snowden’s ultimate goal were to damage the United States government as much as possible, then going to a Chinese territory would make some sense. But this obviously isn’t what he wanted; in The Guardian interview, Snowden disagreed with Glenn Greenwald’s characterization of China as an “enemy” of the United States by stressing the healthy trade relationship between the two countries. Aiding China — whose record of state surveillance and abrogation of civil liberties is inarguably worse than the United States — would go against the entire moral foundation of Snowden’s decision to leak the NSA secrets.
I’m still not convinced yet about Snowden’s motives. One thing I have concluded is that he’s a very narcissistic young man. I can’t believe he chose to leave without even explaining to his girlfriend and his family. He also chose to tell his story to a high narcissistic writer, Glenn Greewald. More on that later.
From USA Today: Edward Snowden’s travel options
HONG KONG — Whether Edward Snowden misjudged the odds of extradition from Hong Kong before revealing his identity here as the man who exposed secret U.S. surveillance programs may be irrelevant.
The National Security Agency contractor may have chosen to surface in the city for the same reason so many companies from the U.S. and other countries choose to use it for a regional base: It’s the best gateway to much of the world’s largest continent….
Hong Kong is connected to 180 cities in dozens of countries by some 850 flights a day. As the city’s investment development agency says on its marketing web site, “Easy and efficient regional travel is key to Hong Kong’s success as a regional centre.” Many of these countries have loose entry requirements for Americans.
He could go to Vietnam, the Phillippines, or any number of other Asian countries. Or perhaps he could go to Russia, which has already offered to consider a request for asylum from him.
USA Today also notes that Snowden has been “contacted by ‘countless people’ offering to pay for ‘anything [he] might need.'”
Meanwhile, an entity called “The Q Group” is trying to hunt Snowden down before he finds a safe harbor. From The Daily Beast:
Even before last week’s revelations by The Guardian newspaper that the National Security Agency (NSA) was collecting call records from telecommunications companies and had the ability to mine user data from major U.S. Internet companies, the NSA was already on the trail of the leaker, according to two former U.S. intelligence officers with close ties to the agency….
The people who began chasing Snowden work for the Associate Directorate for Security and Counterintelligence, according to former U.S. intelligence officers who spoke on condition of anonymity. The directorate, sometimes known as “the Q Group,” is continuing to track Snowden now that he’s outed himself as The Guardian’s source, according to the intelligence officers….
The security and counterintelligence directorate serves as the NSA’s internal police force, in effect watching the agency’s watchers for behavior that could pose an intelligence risk. It has the authority to interview an NSA contractor or employee’s known associates, and even to activate a digital dragnet capable of finding out where a target travels, what the target has purchased, and the target’s online activity.
Are there more bombshells coming from Snowden? Glenn Greenwald says there are. According to TPM,
According to Greenwald, Snowden has provided the archives of “thousands” of documents and “dozens” are newsworthy. Greenwald has suggested in recent days that more revelations are imminent, saying Monday during an interview on MSNBC that “there’s a lot more coming.”
Dozens of hit out of thousands of documents doesn’t sound like a very good ratio to me, but I’m not a reporter.
On Glenn Greenwald, it seems the general consensus is that people either love him or hate him. Personally, I don’t hate him but I find him annoying and part of my suspicion of Snowden probably stems from my mixed feelings about Greenwald. In my opinion, he cares only about his own pet issues and disdains anyone who cares passionately about, for example, women’s rights, the environment, or the plight of people with less money and fewer choices than he has. I guess he’s a libertarian, but again only in terms of his own pet issues.
Anyway it seems there are lots of Greenwald haters out there. One is Willard Foxton of The Telegraph, who today has a piece called The problem with Glenn Greenwald and the creepy cult that surrounds him. Foxton isn’t quite sure why he can’t stand Greenwald.
Maybe it’s because of the enormous, turgid pieces he writes, complete with 500-word updates when people challenge him. Maybe it’s the run-ins he had with other British journalists while he was fanatically defending Julian Assange.
Maybe it’s the petty stuff, like the fact he insists on special rock-star privileges, like policing the comments beneath his articles himself and his reluctance to let his pieces be edited, prior to the NSA/Prism disclosures. Maybe it’s the things that suggest he’s a little odd, like self-searching his own name so he can pounce on people criticising him, or the accusations he’s used internet sock puppets to go after people anonymously.
Maybe it’s the devotion of his legion of fans who consider him to be the greatest and most fearless journalist on earth, who hate anyone who dares disagree with their idol. The last time I criticised him I got a barrage of online abuse – including memorably a 24-slide PowerPoint presentation explaining how the American security services had “got” to me, and how Greenwald was their number-one target. Maybe, as his adoring public have suggested, I’m either a homophobe or in the pay of the CIA. Perhaps both.
That said, I’m honest enough to admit that maybe it’s because I’m jealous of the success he’s had, and the stories he’s broken. I’m not the only one. You can practically hear the disdain in the New York Times’s tone here, where it describes him as a “blogger” for a “British News Website” (The Guardian).
What I think is more likely is I dislike him because he has built a huge platform with opinion writing, and now he’s blurring the line between opinion pieces and straight reporting. That huge platform he’s built means sources come forward to him from his vast base of followers, with real hard news stories, and then he insists on reporting them.
In line with the “creepy cult” notion, the Guardian actually published this fan-boy article about Greenwald today. Bizarrely, it asks readers to describe how they feel about Greenwald with a fill-in-the-blanks questionnaire! You have to see it to believe it.
Another writer who seems to strongly dislike Greenwald is Bob Cesca, who critiqued Greenwald’s scoop early on. He offered a few more comments on the Snowden/Greenwald story yesterday. Here are three of them.
–Once again, it’s nearly impossible to have a nuanced position these days. I bent over backwards to repeat my ongoing opposition to the growing surveillance state, and made it abundantly clear that my intent with the column was to question some of the problems with the reporting and why there were such glaring omissions and errors. But there’s an increasingly evident overlap between the kneejerking on the far-right and the kneejerking on the far-left (I will make an effort to point it out whenever I can) and too many people tend to blurt things out without reading or grasping what’s being said. Consequently, criticizing Greenwald makes me an Obamabot. End of story. The left is sliding into a very dangerous place right now, and I’ll definitely report back on this one.
–There are some questions emerging regarding Ed Snowden’s story. Why did someone who was disillusioned with Obama’s record on national security continue to work for Obama’s national security apparatus — for more than four years? Why did he escape to Hong Kong when it’s clearly not the free speech haven he claimed it was? If he prefers to seek asylum in Iceland, why didn’t he go there before the story went public? How did he attain the access to be able to “wiretap anyone?” I assume we’ll get answers to some of these questions. Maybe?
–Marc Ambinder wrote a blindly complicated article for The Week in which he explained what PRISM is. It’s essentially a program that analyses data. It doesn’t retrieve the data, it merely compiles it. He also explained that the way the NSA can have “direct access” is via servers that mirror the tech giant servers. So if the NSA requests information from Facebook about an account in Pakistan, Facebook creates a mirror that clones the real time date from that account. But that mirror site has to be hosted on a server and all of the tech giants denied giving the NSA access to their servers. More questions.
We’ll have to wait and see whether Snowden’s revelations are truly groundbreaking or not. But as Cesca writes, the “war on terror” must come to an end. If what’s happening now helps that happen, I’ll certainly cheer loudly. But I suspect the U.S. government will react by simply doubling down on its current policies.
I’ll end there. Now what are you reading and blogging about this morning? Please share your links on any topic in the comment thread.