Edward Snowden, the man responsible for all the recent NSA leaks, is having quite a time. It was discovered yesterday that he fled from Hong Kong to Moscow, a move that The Atlantic describes as “…difficult to interpret [...] as anything other than an artfully worded ‘screw you’ to the United States”.
Snowden’s plan, it would seem, is to keep on taking flights until he arrives in Ecuador, which is probably going to grant the man asylum. It isn’t hard to see why either: Ecuador’s extradition treaty with the United States is loaded with loopholes. Individuals wanted for offenses “of a political character” can dodge extradition easily in that country. Furthermore, Ecuador frankly doesn’t give a damn what the United States thinks. It’s elected leader, Rafael Correa, is a Hugo Chávez fan who declared his country’s national debt to be illegitimate and defaulted on the country’s bonds. In other words, a nationalist debt revolt that, for all intents and purposes, won. Giving sanctuary to people who make America look bad is easy politics for Correa.
Of course, this ignores the fact that Ecuador is not exactly a bastion of human rights. A mere two weeks ago, the country’s legislature passed a new law that could severely harm freedom of speech. The Americas view blog on The Economist details a few of it’s effects:
The new law, which could yet be modified by presidential veto, forbids the “deliberate omission of…topics of public interest”. It permits censorship under the state-of-emergency rules defined in the 2008 constitution. Media enterprises will be made financially “responsible in solidarity” in libel cases, and a new regulator close to the presidency will be put in charge of administrative sanctions and applying broad new rules governing local audio and video content, including advertising. A large number of radio frequencies are to revert to government control, to be redistributed among the private, public and non-profit sectors.
But in the fight of exposing disturbing United States’ secrets, a few alliances of convenience with unsavory governments are to be expected. Still, it’s the kind of moral relativism that Snowden should be uncomfortable with.
Snowden isn’t the only fugitive that Ecuador is granting asylum to. A week ago, the country’s foreign minister stated that his its embassy in London will continue to provide political asylum to Julian Assange, the founder of the anti-secrecy organization Wikileaks.
As more details emerge, a new picture is starting to emerge: Assange is providing Snowden with help (via the Ecuador connection) in reaching safety. He very well seems to know where Snowden is at the moment, also revealing that Snowden is being accompanied by a Wikileaks representative by the name of Sarah Harrison.
What is Assange getting in return, apart from returning to the international spotlight Oh, nothing much. Just possibly four laptops that contain “…some of the US government’s most highly-classified secrets”. Where these laptops are at the moment is unclear; they could be in the hands of wikileaks or another journalist outfit. Smart money is on The Guardian, which first broke both the NSA spying story and Assange’s diplomatic cable story.
All we know for sure then, is this: Assange and Snowden are working together and that we can expect more secrets to be revealed in due time.
I really wouldn’t want to be the US government right about now.
Elias Groll from Foreign Policy weighing in on how Assange “reclaims the spotlight“:
…decisively reinserted himself into a story that bears all the hallmarks of an Assange-affair — geopolitical intrigue, intense media interest, and allegations of government wrongdoing at the highest levels. In a conference call with reporters on Monday, Assange revealed that Snowden is in “a safe place” and “his spirits are high,” while also implying that an Assange advisor, Sarah Harrison, remains with him. WikiLeaks, Assange said, has footed the bill for Snowden’s travel expenses and his legal fees.
However, Groll also notes the little irony that I pointed our earlier:
Not unlike Assange, Snowden now appears to be transitioning from media darling to international outcast, and his choice of allies in eluding U.S. authorities only exacerbates this perception. Snowden’s possible itinerary — China-Russia-Cuba/Venezuela/Ecuador — reads like a who’s who of reliably anti-American states, and the irony of standing up for freedom of expression while relying on a coalition of dictatorial states for protection has become a key talking point in the United States.
Snowden’s street cred just took a hit.