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Monday, June 24

Out with Obama's China Pivot; in with the Snowden Pivot

Since the Afghan War and Arab Spring ended at the bottom of Washington's crisis list and the Pentagon nixed an air war against Assad it's been slim pickings for think tank wonks who ply opinion on international matters to the press and Congress.  They can put away the barrista aprons and set aside the manual for operating the computerized cash registers at fast food franchises, which are only slightly more complicated than a submarine launch console.  Edward Snowden's globe hopping has launched so many Diplomatic Incidents for America's President that with any luck the opinion experts can stave off employment at Starbucks and Taco Bell for the rest of the year.

This is what hog heaven looks like to policy wonks:

Snowden’s Flight Sets Back Obama’s China, Russia Outreach

By Terry Atlas & Nicole Gaouette
June 24, 2013
Bloomberg News

President Barack Obama found that his personal efforts to shore up relations with the leaders of China and Russia failed to pay off as fugitive Edward Snowden arrived at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport from Hong Kong en route to a permanent refuge, perhaps in Ecuador.

Obama met just this month with Chinese President Xi Jinping in California and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Group of Eight Summit. The flight by Snowden, a self-described whistle-blower evading U.S. Espionage Act charges, comes as a reversal for that diplomacy. U.S. lawmakers yesterday criticized China and particularly Russia, warning of consequences for failing to hold Snowden for extradition.

"The efforts by the Obama administration in Palm Springs, California, with the Chinese, and then in Northern Ireland with the Russians to find areas of common agreement have been dealt a pretty big setback,” said Bruce Riedel, a 30-year veteran of the CIA and director of the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution, a Washington policy-research group.

Further, the involvement of China and Russia raises questions about their relationship with Snowden and what information he may provide them, Jane Harman, president of the Wilson Center, another Washington research group, said in an interview.

“Clearly, he now is a pawn in a big-power game, and I think that game is way too big for him,” said Harman, a former Democratic congresswoman from California who served on the House intelligence committee.

Information Source

Snowden wouldn’t be permitted to make his moves without the knowledge of senior Chinese and Russian officials, suggesting those governments may see him as an information source, Riedel said.

“The story line has changed pretty dramatically today from a single whistleblower to maybe someone who’s been working with foreign intelligence agencies in the last few weeks, but a lot of question marks will have to be raised about what he’s been up to,” Riedel said.

U.S. lawmakers yesterday criticized China for not preventing Snowden from leaving Hong Kong and urged Russia’s Putin not to protect Snowden, a former contract computer systems technician for the National Security Agency who has identified himself as the source of leaks about U.S. surveillance of telephone calls and Internet traffic.

Consequences Seen

“What’s infuriating here” is Putin “aiding and abetting Snowden’s escape,” New York Senator Charles Schumer, the Senate’s third-ranking Democrat, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “I think it will have serious consequences for the United States-Russia relationship.”

The Russians should know “there will be consequences if they harbor this guy,” Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and member of the Armed Services Committee, said on the “Fox News Sunday” program.

Still, the U.S. has many other matters on its agenda with China and Russia that the Obama administration may not want to jeopardize over Snowden, said Barry Pavel, a vice president at the Atlantic Council, a Washington policy group.

“The Obama administration may decide to play hardball because of the potential damage to national security,” Pavel said in an interview. The more likely course, he said, is that the administration will continue to “try to work with these countries to strengthen cooperation on a broad range of issues because there’s a lot at stake” in areas such as the global economy, the nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran, and the civil war in Syria, he said.

Intelligence Value

The U.S. intelligence community is concerned that Snowden has intelligence value to nations such as Russia and China beyond documents he allegedly has stolen on a thumb drive and laptop computers, said two U.S. officials who asked not to be identified discussing intelligence matters. He also knows about top secret communications intercepts, decrypted messages and other electronic intelligence, as well as vulnerabilities of communications systems and NSA workers, they said.

Snowden landed in Moscow yesterday after fleeing Hong Kong, which had rejected a U.S. warrant for his arrest. The anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks said on its website he is bound for Ecuador “via a safe route for the purposes of asylum.” Snowden has requested political asylum, Ecuador’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patino Aroca, said in a posting on Twitter.

Hong Kong’s Role

Snowden left Hong Kong “through a lawful and normal channel,” the city said in a statement. U.S. documents seeking his arrest didn’t comply with legal requirements and there was thus “no legal basis to restrict Mr. Snowden from leaving Hong Kong,” according to the statement.

China, which resumed sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997, can intervene in extraditions from the city if it relates to China’s defense or foreign affairs. Schumer said he sees “the hand of Beijing” involved.

“China clearly had a role in this, in my view,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said yesterday on CBS’s Face the Nation.

"I don’t think this was just Hong Kong without Chinese acquiescence,” she said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry’s press service, which said it was aware of reports that Snowden is transiting in Moscow, declined to comment further.

Ecuador’s Role

It is not known for certain if Snowden will head to Ecuador, which has also offered asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Assange has been holed up at Ecuador’s embassy in London for more than a year trying to avert extradition to Sweden, where he faces questioning on allegations of rape and sexual molestation.

“It really is a way of asserting their independence and snubbing their nose at the United States, and increases their credentials among their nationalist followers,” said Susan Kaufman Purcell, director of the Center for Hemispheric Policy at the University of Miami.  [Pundita Note: I think Susan means "thumbing" their nose]

Ecuador risks losing U.S. trade preferences, which will expire next month if not renewed by Congress.

In offering asylum to Snowden, Ecuadorean President Rafael Vicente Correa may be trying to solidify his credentials as the next leader of the group of anti-American countries once led by the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Purcell said.

A U.S.-educated economics professor whose father spent time in an American jail for smuggling cocaine, Correa has accused Obama of carrying out a “witch hunt” against Assange.

“There’s no chance he’ll hand Snowden over to the U.S.,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington. “It would completely contradict everything he’s done since taking power.”

His action may cost Ecuador’s economy, hurting a chance to win congressional renewal of the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act that provides duty-free access to the U.S. market for products including flowers, shrimp and fresh produce.

The U.S is Ecuador’s largest export market. The U.S. imported $9.5 billion in goods from Ecuador and exported $6.7 billion in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

(Note that the NSA Affair has been recast as the Snowden Affair and that the Snowden Affair has been reshaped so that there is no way whatsoever for anyone except a wonk to make sense out of it.)

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