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As Snowden succeeds, Obama suffers setbacks

By JULIE PACE
June 25, 2013

The Aeroflot plane Edward Snowden wasn't on. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

The Aeroflot plane Edward Snowden wasn’t on.
(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

For President Barack Obama, National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden’s globe-trotting evasion of U.S. authorities has dealt a startling setback to efforts to strengthen ties with China and raised the prospect of worsening tensions with Russia.

Indeed, Russia’s foreign minister on Tuesday called U.S. demands for Snowden’s extradition “ungrounded and unacceptable.”

Relations with both China and Russia have been at the forefront of Obama’s foreign policy agenda this month, underscoring the intertwined interests among these uneasy partners. Obama met just last week with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit in Northern Ireland and held an unusual two-day summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in California earlier this month.

Obama has made no known phone calls to Xi since Snowden surfaced in Hong Kong earlier this month, nor has he talked to Putin since Snowden arrived in Russia.

Former Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., said it wasn’t clear that Obama’s “charm offensive” with Xi and Putin would matter much on this issue. The U.S. has “very little leverage,” she said, given the broad array of issues on which the Obama administration needs Chinese and Russian cooperation.

“This isn’t happening in a vacuum, and obviously China and Russia know that,” said Harman, who now runs the Woodrow Wilson International Center.

Both the U.S. and China had hailed the Obama-Xi summit as a fresh start to a complex relationship, with the leaders building personal bonds during an hour-long walk through the grounds of the Sunnylands estate. But any easing of tensions appeared to vanish Monday following China’s apparent flouting of U.S. demands that Snowden be returned from semi-autonomous Hong Kong to face espionage charges.

White House spokesman Jay Carney, in unusually harsh language, said China had “unquestionably” damaged its relationship with Washington.

“The Chinese have emphasized the importance of building mutual trust,” Carney said. “We think that they have dealt that effort a serious setback. If we cannot count on them to honor their legal extradition obligations, then there is a problem.”

A similar problem may be looming with Russia, where Snowden arrived Sunday. He had been expected to leave Moscow for a third country, but the White House said Monday it believed the former government contractor was still in Russia.

While the U.S. does not have an extradition treaty with Russia, the White House publicly prodded the Kremlin to send Snowden back to the U.S., while officials privately negotiated with their Russian counterparts.

“We are expecting the Russians to examine the options available to them to expel Mr. Snowden for his return to the United States,” Carney said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday bluntly rejected the U.S. request, saying Snowden hasn’t crossed the Russian border. He angrily lashed out at the U.S. for warnings of negative consequences if Moscow fails to comply.

“We consider the attempts to accuse Russia of violation of U.S. laws and even some sort of conspiracy, which on top of all that are accompanied by threats, as absolutely ungrounded and unacceptable,” Lavrov said.

The U.S. has deep economic ties with China and needs the Asian power’s help in persuading North Korea to end its nuclear provocations. The Obama administration also needs Russia’s cooperation in ending the bloodshed in Syria and reducing nuclear stockpiles held by the former Cold War foes.

Members of Congress so far have focused their anger on China and Russia, not on Obama’s inability to get either country to abide by U.S. demands. However, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said in an interview with CNN on Monday that he was starting to wonder why the president hasn’t been “more forceful in dealing with foreign leaders.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton echoed the White House’s frustration with China. “That kind of action is not only detrimental to the U.S.-China relationship but it sets a bad precedent that could unravel the intricate international agreements about how countries respect the laws — and particularly the extradition treaties,” the possible 2016 presidential contender told an audience in Los Angeles.

Snowden fled to Hong Kong after seizing highly classified documents disclosing U.S. surveillance programs that collect vast amounts of U.S. phone and Internet records. He shared the information with The Guardian and Washington Post newspapers. He also told the South China Morning Post that “the NSA does all kinds of things like hack Chinese cellphone companies to steal all of your SMS data.” SMS, or short messaging service, generally means text messaging.

Snowden still has perhaps more than 200 sensitive documents, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said over the weekend.

Hong Kong, a former British colony with a degree of autonomy from mainland China, has an extradition treaty with the U.S. Officials in Hong Kong said a formal U.S. extradition request did not fully comply with its laws, a claim the Justice Department disputes.

The White House made clear it believes the final decision to let Snowden leave for Russia was made by Chinese officials in Beijing.

Russia’s ultimate response to U.S. pressure remains unclear. Putin could still agree to return Snowden to the U.S. But he may also let him stay in Russia or head elsewhere, perhaps to Ecuador or Venezuela — both options certain to earn the ire of the White House.

Fiona Hill, a Russia expert at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, said she expected Putin to take advantage of a “golden opportunity” to publicly defy the White House.

“This is one of those opportunities to score points against the United States that I would be surprised if Russia passed up,” Hill said.

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Follow Julie Pace on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC
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Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

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10 Responses to As Snowden succeeds, Obama suffers setbacks

  1. Bill Cravener

    June 25, 2013 at 7:48 am

    Only the most naive could possibly believe that the government does not use every surveillance method available to them. At least Daniel Ellsberg had the courage to be willing to accept jail time for his actions. He, unlike Snowden, did not run to the clutches of our enemies. Edward Snowden is a coward and a traitor who refuses to face the consequences of his actions. He is a pathetic excuse of a man and my hope is he spends the rest of his life in prison or is shot dead. Either way works for me!

    • Keith

      June 25, 2013 at 12:24 pm

      A “coward and a traitor”?

      Hardly.

      Since when has exposing blatant Government wrongdoing make one a “coward” or make those revelations a “treasonable” offense?

      In my mind, Mr. Snowden has shown unusual courage in speaking out against the US Government’s blatant attempts to trample on the 4th Amendment of our beloved Constitution, all in the name of perpetuating a top-secret, Trillion-dollar-a-year “security” empire that is the government equivalent of squashing gnats with hammers.

      And his flight to Hong Kong (and now to Russia) is simply making it that much harder for the US Government’s “goon squads” to grab him and shut him up.

      Clearly, the US Government “security” empire’s blatant bungling in trying to retrieve Mr. Snowden is yet MORE proof (as if we needed any) that their elephantine bureaucracy has now grown so large that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

      Indeed, that HUGE bureaucratic bumbledom has now become SO large that no overpaid bureaucrat toiling therein is willing to take the risk of making a critical decision that may someday come back to bite them. So they spend all their time “coordinating” a response that results in their “target” slipping away.

      The bottom line here is that, ANY way you cut it, Mr. Snowden is a hero. And the US Government’s bumbled attempts to now retrieve him and shut him up would be comic if they all weren’t so pitifully sad.

    • David

      June 25, 2013 at 5:43 pm

      There is more courage and honor in Edward Snowden’s pinky toe, than there is in Bill Cravener’s entire body.

      See how easy it is to take cheap shots Bill?

  2. sherry

    June 25, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    Is there anyone who didn’t know the NSA was collecting data? Anyone remember Telecon Amnesty?
    Where has everyone been? This has gone on since the Bush administration.
    We could have done without his disclosure of alledged hacking into other nations’networks. China hacks us on a daily basis. He was not helping the American public in any way by disclosing this.
    THAT makes him a traitor. If he possessed such courage, he wouldn’t be running like the coward that he is, into hostile territory no less.
    He is denying himself the right of trail. As is, he will likely disappear.
    It happens.

    • David

      June 25, 2013 at 7:58 pm

      “We could have done without his disclosure of alledged hacking into other nations’networks.”

      On the contrary, it is very good for me to know what criminal actions my government is committing against other countries.

      “China hacks us on a daily basis.”

      So? Does that justify the USA hacking everyone else?

      “He was not helping the American public in any way by disclosing this.”

      Wrong again, he has helped more of the American public see the criminal actions of their government. It is a great help.

      “THAT makes him a traitor.”

      Common definition of a traitor – A person who betrays a friend, country, principle, etc.

      Sherry’s definition of a traitor – Someone who proves that the USA does on a daily basis what China does on a daily basis.

      “If he possessed such courage, he wouldn’t be running like the coward that he is, into hostile territory no less.”

      Sherry’s definition of a coward – Someone very brave.

      “He is denying himself the right of trial.”

      No, that would be people like Sherry and members of Congress who declare him a traitor based on what little they know or understand. When members of Congress do that they make it impossible to get a fair trial because they are already prejudicing the jury pool against him.

      So ironically his escaping US clutches is just him exercising his right to a fair trial. Maybe he can get one in Russia or China.

    • Keith

      June 25, 2013 at 8:57 pm

      Sherry said: “Where has everyone been? This has gone on since the Bush administration.”

      All true.

      So, how do these facts somehow excuse the US Government’s continuing use of the 4th Amendment for toilet paper?

      Sherry went on to say: “China hacks us on a daily basis. He was not helping the American public in any way by disclosing this.”

      To the contrary, Mr. Snowden was shining a LONG overdue light of truth on our own, horribly corrupt government’s absolutely unconstitutional monitoring of its own citizens without just cause and without due process…all paid for with hundreds of billions of your and my tax dollars.

      To me, THAT’S the REAL crime in all this.

      What’s more, it seems to me that if another nation is hacking into our government’s computers, WE own the problem, not them.

      But, then again, maybe you haven’t (yet) heard of the need for virus protection on your own home computer.

  3. sherry

    June 25, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    sorry, denying himself right of trial.

  4. sherry

    June 26, 2013 at 7:57 am

    I am not defending the NSA spying.I hate it. It isn’t going away. My point was, it has been happening since 9/11 and people are acting as if Snowden was the first to put it out there.
    I don’t feel the public is better served when other nations are told about secret activities such as the hacking. There is a full blown cyber war going on that isn’t talked about. What service was Snowden performing when he told us this? Is our public safer? IS our national security in a better place?
    I DO have virus protection on my computer.
    I can’t believe you are OK with his reveal of our goverments actions/responses against other governments.

    • Keith

      June 26, 2013 at 9:41 am

      Sherry wrote” ” My point was, it has been happening since 9/11 and people are acting as if Snowden was the first to put it out there.”

      So, once again, how does this fact make what the NSA, CIA, (et al) are doing any less unlawful and/or unconstitutional?

      The truth is that other countries (and the fanatics contained therein) don’t hate us for what we ARE. They hate us for what we DO.

      Perhaps if the US Government stopped propping up the Zionists in the Middle East (i.e. The Government of Israel) who continue to increase their claim on lands that rightfully belong to others, perhaps those “others” wouldn’t be as apt to commit acts of terrorism against us.

      And if the US Government also stopped waging their “wars of pre-emption” (a.k.a. Afghanistan, Iraq and Lybia, et al) against other nations that pose absolutely NO strategic threat to ours, perhaps there’d be NO NEED to spend the Trillions of dollars we don’t have (and can’t afford) on massive “security” establishments to snoop on everyone and his brother…including our own citizens.

      It used to be that we in the United States of America were innocent until proven guilty.

      Unfortunately, our own US Government, now with its massive spy networks and totally out of control police and military establishments, have turned that notion on its head. Clearly, our government now presumes EVERYONE is guilty until proven otherwise. And the burden of proof of one’s innocence now lies with YOU and not the government.

      Any way you cut it, Sherry, that’s wrong.

      Clearly, those whose job it is to maintain that completely out of control “snooping” empire of ours are royally peeved that their totally needless chicanery is now being exposed for all the world to see.

      So, rather than being a “traitor”, Mr. Snowden is helping to shine the light of truth on all of these so-called “secret” facts that have (up to now) been classified for NO OTHER PURPOSE than to cover the tracks of the authorizations perpetrating this unmitigated fraud and these totally unconstitutional offences against the American people.

    • David

      June 26, 2013 at 4:35 pm

      “I don’t feel the public is better served when other nations are told about secret activities such as the hacking.”

      Which tells us one thing, your reaction to Snowden is an emotional one, based on your “feelings”. My reaction to this disclosure has nothing to do with my emotions, only my cold, hard, logical reasoning as well as my knowledge.

      “What service was Snowden performing when he told us this?”

      As you say, this information was already public thanks to James Bamford who revealed all this in 2008. But Bamford was ignored, the public didn’t pay attention. Thanks to Snowden’s dramatic escape and ongoing race across the world, this news has now become a media sensation, and the public is gradually becoming aware of just how much their privacy is being violated, and the privacy of people in other countries is being violated.

      “Is our public safer?”

      Yes. Now Americans who observe criminal activity by government employees will be better able to protect themselves before they try to expose this criminal activity. They will know they can’t use their cellphone, their laptop or any of their personal electronic devices for the exposure, so they will be better able to hide their identity when they do leak the information. This is important because the Obama administration ruthlessly persecutes whistle-blowers that expose government crimes.

      And each time government criminals are exposed to the light, they run the risk of humiliation and penalties. This increases their risk, which means the public is a little safer from their predations.

      “IS our national security in a better place?”

      When the government talks about national security they really mean their own security, not the public’s security. And yes, their security is in a better place from my point of view, although I am sure they would disagree. Now they are more exposed, the public is more aware of their crimes, which increases their risk in the future, and makes the public less likely to trust them.

      National security is in a better place for the public, in a worse place for the government.

      “I can’t believe you are OK with his reveal of our goverments actions/responses against other governments.”

      I am a fellow American and I am absolutely OK with what Snowden has done. I encourage more people in the government who know something to come forward and stand up for what is right. Let the chips fall where they may.