WikiLeaks, which sent their representative Sarah Harrison to Hong Kong last summer to supervise Edward Snowden’s flight to Moscow, admitted today that it had advised the former NSA spy to seek asylum in Russia for his own personal safety.
Until today’s admission, WikiLeaks and Snowden supporters have blamed the United States and the Obama Administration for allegedly forcing Snowden to request asylum in Russia, insisting that Snowden had never intended to seek protection in one of the world’s most efficient and repressive police states. As the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen wrote in his volte-face hagiography on Snowden,
“Snowden’s residency in Russia has been forced upon him — he had nowhere else to go.”
But today, after Chancellor Merkel’s government blocked Snowden from coming to Germany to appear before parliament, WikiLeaks tweeted:
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) May 1, 2014
Today’s admission from WikiLeaks that their Snowden advisor deceived the Western public about Snowden’s asylum intentions comes on the same day that Snowden was awarded the Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling. It is the latest in a series of US Establishment prizes and accolades heaped on Snowden and his scribes.
The WikiLeaks tweet admitting that Snowden’s closest advisor in Hong Kong pushed him to seek asylum under Kremlin protection jibes with what Julian Assange (who reportedly controls the @WikiLeaks handle) told Rolling Stone:
“While Venezuela and Ecuador could protect him in the short term, over the long term there could be a change in government. In Russia, he’s safe, he’s well-regarded, and that is not likely to change. That was my advice to Snowden, that he would be physically safest in Russia.”
Last June, while still in Hong Kong, Snowden gave hints that he might drop his high-minded talk about principles and opt for the security of a friendly police-state like Russia. Sometime between Snowden’s first Guardian interview on June 9, and a follow-up Guardian interview on June 17, he appeared to have a change of heart—and principles.
On June 9, the principled Snowden told the Guardian:
“My predisposition is to seek asylum in a country with shared values. The nation that most encompasses this is Iceland. They stood up for people over internet freedom.”
Just over a week later, with WikiLeaks’ Sarah Harrison having flown to Hong Kong to supervise his asylum strategy, the realpolitik Snowden took over, telling the Guardian that protecting his own personal safety was more important than Iceland’s hippie-dippy respect for Internet freedom. In an online chat-interview, The Guardian’s Ewan MacAskill asked Snowden:
“I should have asked you this when I saw you but never got round to it……..Why did you just not fly direct to Iceland if that is your preferred country for asylum?”
A simple and rather obvious follow-up question. A week earlier, on June 9, Snowden had told the Guardian he chose to go to Hong Kong first because of its alleged “reputation for freedom” and its “strong tradition of free speech.” But on June 17, he gave a different explanation to the same Guardian journalist for why he chose Hong Kong over Iceland:
There was a distinct possibility I would be interdicted en route, so I had to travel with no advance booking to a country with the cultural and legal framework to allow me to work without being immediately detained. Hong Kong provided that. Iceland could be pushed harder, quicker, before the public could have a chance to make their feelings known, and I would not put that past the current US administration.
Shortly after this Guardian chat-interview, Snowden and Harrison began spending time in the Russian consulate in Hong Kong. According to both Putin and the Russian daily Kommersant, Snowden spent several days at the Russian consulate before flying to Moscow on June 23, allowed by Russian officials to use his revoked US passport to board Aeroflot and to land in Moscow. (The story that Snowden traveled to Moscow with a letter of safe passage from an Ecuadorian official was later refuted — thus far, no one from Snowden’s camp has explained how he was allowed to board an Aeroflot flight to Moscow on a revoked passport.)
It may be that Snowden’s asylum bid under Kremlin protection is a fulfillment of something Julian Assange first floated years ago, just before WikiLeaks exploded on the world stage and his serious troubles began. Assange has been there before — and there’s evidence that if he had to do it again, he’d have sought Kremlin protection before the Interpol ax fell. According to the Guardian’s book about their collaboration with Assange, “WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War On Secrecy” Assange told a room full of international journalists back in November 2010 that he was considering seeking asylum in Russia:
“[A]s the journalists sank pints of Pilsner Urquell, Assange confided he was thinking about going to Russia. Russia was an odd choice — especially in the light of soon-to-be-published cables that described it as a ‘virtual mafia state’. He did not disclose, however, details of the relationship he had privately struck up with WikiLeaks’ new ‘Russian representative’, the bizarre figure of [FSB agent/Holocaust denier] Israel Shamir.”
Assange has since wound up trapped in the tiny Ecuadorian embassy in London. Perhaps he still regrets not leaving for Russia when he could. His public statements make clear that he advised Snowden to do what Assange himself did not — actively seek Putin’s protection. The only problem, of course, is if the Western public you’re appealing on high-minded principles grounds finds out you’re cynically willing to seek police state protection for your own safety, regardless of all the millions oppressed by that police state. Such rank double-standards — in the best liberal imperialist tradition, in which the Natives’ problems always take a back seat to the enlightened White Man’s sufferings — might create a credibility problem.
Last August, when Russia granted Snowden temporary asylum and he and Sarah Harrison left Sheremetyevo Airport, WikiLeaks once again pushed its narrative that Snowden did everything he could to seek asylum in a country that could not protect him — but a country whose very name [Venezuela, Iceland, Bolivia] evoked all the best associations in his Western leftist audience’s minds — and only wound up “stuck” in Russia because the Obama Administration forced him to. Despite all the gaping holes in that story, despite being debunked by WikiLeaks and Assange, it was a story we wanted to hear.
Now that WikiLeaks has contradicted this account, it’s interesting to re-read what essentially was a cheap kabuki theater act put on for a gullible Western media establishment who were only too happy to be fed this bullshit, anything to avoid the confusing, depressing truth:
Mr Snowden and Ms Harrison have been staying in the [Moscow] airport for almost six weeks, having landed on an Aeroflot flight from Hong Kong on the 23rd June. They had been booked on a connecting flight the following day. Mr Snowden intended to request asylum in Latin America. However, after Mr Snowden’s departure was made public, the United States government canceled his passport, which rendered onward travel impossible.
From within the transit zone of the airport, Mr Snowden and Ms Harrison spent a number of weeks prior to his Russian application assessing the options available to him to ensure his future safety. Without a passport and no immediate offers of the necessary safe passage, travel was impossible. Over twenty asylum requests to various countries were made to try to secure Mr Snowden’s passage. Throughout this period the United States took irregular and disproportionate actions to block Mr Snowden’s right to seek asylum….
Now that we know we’ve been duped — the question is, does it matter? Most people I know don’t want to think about it, can’t separate the value of the leaks from the colossal disappointment that is Edward Snowden, and so decide to hold a posture of virtuous indifference to the matter, rather than deal with that contradiction. Our simple American brains are incapable of making separate judgments on the leaks and on Snowden the man.
There’s another reason why no one on the left (or libertarian right) cares about being deceived by Snowden, or by Snowden’s betrayal of principles: Because they don’t give a shit about oppressed Russians. Not unless those oppressed Russians live outside of Russia’s borders.
Every time I hear this same mantra from my friends on the adversarial left — “I don’t really care that Snowden saved his ass by seeking Kremlin protection, I’d do it too, what’s he supposed to do” — I always ask them if they’d be that glib about it if Snowden, using this same principle of “anything to save my ass,” took asylum with militant Jewish settlers in the Occupied Territories. If Snowden were Jewish, it would certainly be a possibility. How many of his supporters would be so quick to virtuously dismiss its relevance; how easy would it be to ignore the politics of Snowden hiding out with violent right-wing Zionist chauvinists in a place you do care about? How glibly would you dismiss every lie Snowden hawked your way, knowing he’s in an ultranationalist Jewish settlement with killers?
The ongoing hagiography of Edward Snowden as the embodiment of so many high-minded Establishment principles, anti-Establishment principles, courage, bravery, heroism and the like — it’s all only possible if you’re indifferent to Russians’ problems. And if there’s one thing that left, center and right in this country can agree on, it’s that we don’t give a shit about Russians.
A quick refresher: Putin came to power waging a savage war against Islamic Chechnya that killed tens of thousands, forcing untold thousands into savage “filtration camps” where torture and rape were rampant, and displacing hundreds of thousands more into refugee camps. He has presided over the total dismantling of every fragile vestige of democracy and freedom of expression first introduced by Gorbachev, most recently cracking down hard on Internet freedom, opposition protests, and critics of any sort — period.
…my gratitude and respect for being the first to stand against human rights violations carried out by the powerful rather than the powerless. By refusing to compromise their principles in the face of intimidation, they have earned the respect of the world.
Tsk-tsk say our adversarial intellectuals. Why get worked up? They’re just Russians, after all. It’s not as though Snowden is ignoring or personally benefiting from a state that’s oppressing Palestinians — because that would be grotesquely wrong and unforgivable. But Russians? Their oppressions and sufferings are just an abstraction. Had Snowden hidden out in a violent Jewish settlement in Hebron, on the very same principle of saving his own ass by any means necessary with any devil necessary — and released a statement praising his Zionist settler protectors “for being the first to stand against human rights violations carried out by the powerful rather than the powerless” — I seriously doubt today’s Snowden supporters would adopt the same virtuous indifference to the people he sought protection from.
But Snowden isn’t Jewish; he didn’t have that option to seek safety in a Zionist settlement. He chose the most vile and self-serving option on the table, and it happens to be an option that doesn’t offend the left-intelligentsia here, because after all, who on the left gives a fuck about oppressed Russians. (I do, but I am a rare case — I happen to have spent a good portion of my life in Russia, have family in Russia, had my problems with the Kremlin, and still maintain ties there. But clearly that’s my problem, not yours, not Snowden’s.)
Somehow indifference to Kremlin oppression is a sign of enlightened righteousness. Snowden’s virtuous indifference is our intelligentsia’s virtuous indifference; Snowden canonized as a Ridenhour Truth Teller is really our way of celebrating how we adversarials are truth tellers — even when we’re lying. Or worse, completely indifferent to the truth.. If you never had oppressed Russians on your mind in the first place, it’s easy to mistake your indifference as a virtuous principle, as adversarial journalism’s legions of steely Henry Kissingers do.
[Illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]