Fugitive Spy Edward Snowden and the limits of US power

| June 30, 2013
Dickson Igwe

Socio-Political Commentator – Dickson Igwe

First story about the spy and his craft in the digital age

On May 20, 2013, or thereabouts, 29 year old US citizen, National Security Agency contractor, and computer techie, Edward Snowden, willfully disappeared from the USA with a mind and laptop filled with state security secrets.

Snowden’s first port of call was the Chinese territory of Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a hilly peninsula, and island abutting the Chinese landmass.

It is further made up of a number of islands and islets that sit in a deep maritime harbor. Hong Kong is on the South Asian Pacific Coast of China in the South China Sea.

Today however, over a month since he defected, Snowden is hobbled up somewhere in Russia, in the airport at Moscow, a ten hour flight from Hong Kong.    

The information in Snowden’s hands showed, probably partially, the extent of US digital surveillance of its own citizens, the awesome cipher capabilities of the ‘supremely powerful’ agency, and some very sensitive computer information about cyber warfare against potential foes. Today, the world is amazed at how explosive this matter has become.

Now one caveat: Snowden’s insistence that he is a whistleblower, and not a treacherous spy was buttressed by a President Jimmy Carter, who on June 28, 2013, stated on CNN, that state secrecy and the invasion of privacy in the United States may have gone too far.

Edward Snowden

Fugitive Spy Edward Snowden. Photo courtesy www.npr.org

Now the loss of this extremely valuable digital information, essentially complex algorithms that enable access into the core of an enemy’s information technology infrastructure and network, has become a massive international news story. It appears to have wreaked some havoc in the US intelligence community.

Is US paranoia justified?

As Snowden inhabits a veritable no man’s land somewhere in Moscow, this matter is a major geopolitical headache for a USA security and political establishment that is both embarrassed and angry. The most powerful country on earth has been humiliated. As a consequence, the US will be putting maximum pressure on any country that it believes is assisting the young computer whizz abscond.

The US is very suspicious of the activities of China and Russia in this matter. Uncle Sam is warning of dire consequences if Snowden is allowed to escape US justice, and that nation’s vast and semi ubiquitous international network of state, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies.

As of June 28, 2013, a US President visiting a ‘strongly growing’ African continent is underplaying the matter to protect the prestige of the US Presidency.

The loss of extremely valuable computer information and material from the US National Security Agency, the NSA, the US version of the British listening ear, the UK Government’s Communications Head Quarters, GCHQ, is an act that amounts to a huge gift to America’s competitors, foes, and enemies. It is indeed a big deal.

A boon to America’s competitors and foes 

Spies, intelligence personnel, policy makers, and even businessmen, in Russia, China, Cuba, Venezuela, and a number of countries, not too, let us say, Kosher, with Uncle Sam, are today grinning from ear to ear.

Vladimir Putin

President Vladimir Putin. Photo courtesy 32news.ru


Vladimir Putin, Russia’s very own James Bond turned president, an old KGB spymaster himself, a ruthless ex Soviet apparatchik, and a man known for going after his enemies with a cold and deadly focus, probably cannot hide his glee. Of course, in public, he will bear the demeanor of a leader profoundly troubled by this latest foreign policy mess, wanting Snowden out of Moscow as soon as possible.

In private he is probably swigging bottles of the finest vodka with his oligarch buddies and fellow spies: celebrating this latest intelligence coup against the almighty USA.  Meanwhile Snowden, the pawn in this latest intrigue, dare not refuse to sing to the Russian Tsar. He must tell all. He knows only too well that with friends like Uncle Vladimir, it is better to be surrounded by cold enemies. The Russian Bear does not take prisoners.

A swift exchange of prisoners, and a tiny cell in the US, may await Snowden if he fails to vomit up information. Bear in mind that a bullet in the back of the head in a cold cell deep in the heart of the Kremlin, or a slow death in a prison camp in Siberia, is the common lot for those who displease members of the Russian Politburo. Yes, Snowden has transcended the mundane world of computer hardware and software, and complex programming.

The world of the spy

Snowden sits in a new order, when compared to what the two hundred thousand a year whizz is accustomed. This is a murky and violent world, where clandestine politics, cold intelligence, and faceless international policy rules.

This is the world of the spy: the world of John Le Carre. Snowden in all probability is beyond the reach of US law. He inhabits a slippery stage, where deceptive, fierce, and murderous characters rule: from cold dictators, ruthless tyrants, authoritarian leaders, and arms dealers; to brilliant fraudsters, charismatic conmen, violent carpetbaggers, old style gangsters, and international businessmen of dubious character.

This is the world of the Murderous Middle Eastern Ruler, Corrupt African Head of State, Russian oligarch and his eight hundred million dollar yacht, the European baron and art collector, the Arab Oil Sheikh, billionaire Chinese mandarin, Super Wealthy Mexican Communications Guru, folksy and enormously powerful Texan businessman and energy executive with the highest level US security clearances, add the cold English spy: men who live and die by their own rules.

A borderless world of men and women who can step from light into darkness in the twinkling of an eye: cold operatives with access to lethal gadgets and invisible devices, manufactured in secret state owned laboratories.

Labyrinthine, Byzantine, and Levantine, awkward, paranoid, and tanned characters that possess fixed smiles, and grins that may have well been glued to the face. Practitioners of the darkest of arts, and men and women licensed to kill, who live on the edge, and grace the most violent countries on the planet: invisible warriors fighting a secret and deadly war 24 hours a day.

Treacherous operators, dispassionate and detached: faceless men and women, who possess the ability to move chameleon like from one country to another, using multiple passports and identities in the quest to outmaneuver that ever elusive foe and enemy quarry; and all this in the pursuit of economic, military, and political advantage, of one power over the other.

To be continued

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Category: Culture & Society, Politics

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