Disclaimer: I would start off by saying that whoever or whatever Edward Snowden is, I believe that he has performed an important and useful service to America and to the world by revealing the extent of the National Security Agency’s spying programs. This universal surveillance must be universally talked about, because for it to remain in the dark would be more hurtful to civilization than any damage that could result from it being brought to light. What follows in no way devalues the usefulness of Snowden’s revelations.
Having said that… I have this possible hypothesis of what could be going on that I would like to trot out.
I have probably read too many spy novels and this may have twisted my mind all out of shape, but I keep asking myself, could Snowden be a Russian mole?
Because if he were a mole and he really took with him what he claims he took with him when he left the States, he would be an even more important mole than Kim Philby.
“Beyond technical systems, U.S. officials are deeply concerned that Snowden used his sensitive position to read about U.S. human assets, for example spies and informants overseas as well as safe houses and key spying centers. They worry this recent quote from Snowden was not an exaggeration: ” I had access to the full rosters of everyone working at the NSA, the entire intelligence community, and undercover assets all over the world. The locations of every station, we have what their missions are, and so forth.” ABC News
The question would be, if he were really a mole, why not just run off to Russia with his stuff and retire to a nice Dasha outside Moscow and draw a fat pension for the rest of his life?
The answer would be, the Cold War is over and the USA and Russia have friendly relations and to have openly stolen the Crown Jewels, (really more the family jewels) of US intelligence, would validate Mitt Romney’s campaign claim the Russia was America’s “number one geopolitical foe”, an affirmation much derided at the time. Obviously if Snowden had just disappeared with all his hard drives and turned up in Moscow to a hero’s welcome, American-Russian relations would be “reset” to somewhere pre-Gorbachev.
Such an open rupture is something that Vladimir Putin would much like to avoid and if (big if) Edward Snowden is a mole, Putin would obviously like to have his cake and eat it too.
On a trip to Chita in Eastern Siberia on Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin reiterated that Mr Snowden would have to stop any anti-American activity if he wished to receive asylum in Russia. “We warned Mr Snowden that any action by him that could cause damage to Russian-American relations is unacceptable for us,” Mr Putin said on Wednesday. He added that the Kremlin considered good relations with Washington to be “a national objective”. “Bilateral relations, in my opinion, are far more important than squabbles about the activities of the secret services,” the president said. Financial Times
In order to do have and eat the cake simultaneously, Putin would have to “launder” Edward Snowden, just like laundering money. How is this done? Wikipedia explains:
Money laundering is commonly defined as occurring in three steps: first, cash is introduced into the financial system by some means (“placement”); the second involves carrying out complex financial transactions in order to camouflage the illegal source (“layering”); and, the final step entails acquiring wealth generated from the transactions of the illicit funds (“integration”).
If Putin is laundering Snowden then “placement” would have been Hong Kong and (layering) his first revelations in the Washington Post and The Guardian, which have caused a worldwide anti-American reaction, especially among America’s closest allies and a near total loss of America’s moral authority to scold anyone about anything. This “layering” continued with his “where is Wally?” stay in Moscow’s airport with offers of asylum from Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua. “Integration” would be his being granted asylum in Russia and the hard drives being returned to the USA (after everything on them has been read, of course). Triple play, checkmate, carom shot.
If my tentative hypothesis is correct, Vladimir Putin is perhaps the greatest spymaster of all time, and if Edward Snowden has just landed in his lap by chance, with all the damage he has done to America’s human rights moral authority, then Putin is even luckier than Gloria C. MacKenzie.