Friday, July 05, 2013

US vs. Europe vs. Latin America Over Edward Snowden

The Edward Snowden case acquired an extra touch of melodrama the last couple of days as Anna Chapman, the Russian spy expelled from the US in 2010 ...

... supposedly proposed to him via Twitter ...

... then followed up with this message to the NSA:

Die Welt seemed to accept that as her real Twitter account, Ex-Spionin fragt: "Snowden, willst Du mich heiraten?" 04.07.13.

Yes, Edward Snowden, this could be you (well, maybe!)

Honey trap? Publicity stunt by Chapman? A great opportunity for Snowden? I mean, shoot, if you have to spend the rest of your life at the Moscow Airport, you can see why he might want some company!

Then again, this DPA story "Chapman" liebt "Snowden": Twitter-Romanze amüsiert Moskau Salzburger Nachrichten 05.07.2013 was more cautious on whether it is really her Twitter account.

The Chapman story is entertaining. Especially with The Americans on hiatus for the summer. Speaking of which, Chapman and her fellow spies busted in 2010 were the inspiration for the series: Olivia B. Waxman - Q&A: The CIA Officer Behind the New Spy Drama The Americans Time 01/30/2013

But the diplomatic flaps that the Snowden affair and what seems to be hamhanded handling of it by the Obama Administration are more series that Anna Chapman publicity stunts. The revelations of NSA spying on the EU nations has caused some upset. And it seems to be more than just leaders doing the required posturing for domestic political reasons to show they maintain some national pride. Stephen Walt writes in News Flash: States Spy on Each Other Foreign Policy 07/03/2013:

The National Security Agency has done us all a service by reminding the world that international politics is still a) inherently competitive and b) primarily conducted by nation-states. I refer, of course, to the recent revelations that in addition to spying on U.S. citizens, the National Security Agency (NSA) has also been spying on America's European allies. You know: our closest strategic partners!
But he also notes that there may be some substantive consequences to this:

Which is not to say this aspect of the Snowden affair won't have significant consequences. Exposure of the NSA's efforts is bound to complicate efforts to negotiate a transatlantic trade and investment agreement [TTIP], an initiative that faced plenty of obstacles already. It is also going to give ammunition to all those people who are worried about the globalization of information and who would like to see governments do more to protect privacy and limit both corporate and governmental data-collection. And that makes me wonder whether we are now at the high-water mark of loosely regulated global connectivity, and that all these revelations will eventually lead both democracies and authoritarian societies to place much stricter limits on how information flows between societies (and individuals).

If so, then you should probably enjoy the Wild West of Internet freedom while you can, before the firewalls go up.
As I've said before, I won't be crying if EU upset over the spying disrupts the progress of the TTIP negotiations, because it's already looking to be a bad deal for most people in the countries affected. And speaking of which, I see indications that the real upset by EU government was over the extent of what is still called "industrial espionage." In other words, the EU One Percent is especially worried that the NSA is tapping into private trade and proprietary information and passing it on to American corporations. But that's not to minimize fears on the part of the majority that the US is tapping into their private conversations with no good reason. Spain's former Foreign Minister Ana Palacio from the conservative party (PP) also highlights the connection between uproar over NSA spying in Europe with the TTIP negotiations (The Snowden Effect Project Syndicate 07/04/2013):

... Europeans have raised serious questions about US intelligence practices. These range from the lack of professionalism implied by allowing contractors to conduct such sensitive work to America's hands-off approach toward certain allies, like the United Kingdom and New Zealand, while relegating many of its other allies – including most of the European Union – to surveillance-worthy status.

The bitter irony is that, at this suddenly inauspicious moment, Europe and the US are launching their most significant joint project since the creation of NATO – a transatlantic free-trade agreement. For the sake of its success, is it really too much to ask of the US that it play its part internationally with a bit more skill and professionalism, and that it treat its partners with respect?
Andrea Böhm argues in Purer Selbstverrat Zeit Online 05.07.2013 that the famous "soft power" of the US comes not just from the cultural industry ("Hollywood") and technological innovation ("Silicon Valley") but also from the country's continuing struggle to realize its own ideals. Joschka Fischer, for instance, the former Green Party leader and former German Foreign Minister, admire the democratic self-renewal that the US has repeatedly displayed in our history. But, Böhm notes, that struggle to realize democratic ideals looks like it is tapped out at the moment. "Amerika hat derzeit nicht die Kraft zu Selbstkorrektur. Die muss jetzt anders entstehen." ("At this time, America doesn't have the power for self-correction. It must comes from somewhere else now.") The NSA surveillance revelations have highlighted the similarities between the Obama and Cheney-Bush Administrations on extreme domestic spying practices.

And Böhm rightly points to the key problem in that regard of the state of Permanent War, of which the War on Terrorism has become a continuation of the Cold War. "Er [Obama] kann das amerikanische Militär von den Kriegsschauplätzen in Afghanistan und im Irak abziehen, nicht aber sein Land aus dem geistigen Kriegszustand lösen – und vielleicht will er es auch gar nicht." ("He [Obama] can pull the American military out of the battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq, but not release his country out of the mental state of war - and maybe he also just doesn't want to.")

That attitude helps explain how the diplomatic hostilities over Snowden have spread to South America with the retaining of Bolivian President Evo Morales plane in Vienna this week for over 13 hours because France, Italy, Portugal and Spain withdrew overflight rights after his plane departed from Moscow. The Real News reports in Bolivians Indignant at European Treatment of President Morales 07/04/2013:

The Young Turks also report on the story in Why Is Obama Bullying the President of Bolivia? 07/04/2013:

Martín Granovsky in Lo que hay detrás Página/12 05.07.2013 notes that although the formal complaints are being directed against the European countries that played games with overflight, the main actor in this drama is clearly the United States. Bolivia is protesting, apparently with good reason, that withdrawing the overflight rights was a serious violation of diplomatic protocol and international law. They even used the word "kidnapped," to describe Evo's stopover in Vienna.

But Bolivia doesn't seem to be complaining about Austria's conduct. Austrian President Heinz Fischer posted this photo of him greeting Evo at the airport ("Boliviens Präsident Evo Morales kann Heimreise fortsetzen": Statement von Bundespräsident Heinz Fischer 03.07.2013):

Bolivian Presisdent Evo Morales and Austrian President Heinz Fischer

Less obviously plausible is Bolivia's argument that Evo's life was endangered by the overflight problem. I suppose this argument is based on the pilot's message, heard in The Young Turks report, that they had to land because their were running out of fuel.

The South American alliance UNASUR have issued a formal protest against France, Italy, Portugal and Spain in solidarity with Bolivia, Declaración de la UNASUR frente al agravio sufrido por el Presidente Evo Morales 04.07.2013, calling their action a continuation of "colonial practices." (Technically, the declaration in the name of "Las Jefas y Jefes de Estado y de Gobierno de países de la Unión de Naciones Sudamericanas (UNASUR), reunidos en Cochabamba" (the chiefs of state and government of countries of the Union of South American Nations {UNASUR} meeting in Cochabamba", Bolivia under the auspices of UNASUR. This Reuters headline spins it as South American leftist leaders rally for Bolivia in Snowden saga 07/05/2013. The actual "chiefs of state and government" were Evo Morales himself, Argentina's Cristina Fernández, Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro, Peru's Rafael Correa, Uruguay's José Mujica and Surinam's Dési Boutarese. As Reuters reports:

At the end of the summit ... a statement was issued demanding answers from France, Portugal, Italy and Spain. The United States was not mentioned in the statement.

"Europe broke all the rules of the game," Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said shortly after arriving at the Cochabamba airport. "We're here to tell President Evo Morales that he can count on us. Whoever picks a fight with Bolivia, picks a fight with Venezuela."

Maduro said an unnamed European government minister had told Venezuela that the CIA, the U.S. spy agency, was behind the incident.

"We are not colonies any more," Uruguayan President Jose Mujica said. "We deserve respect, and when one of our governments is insulted we feel the insult throughout Latin America." ...

Noticeably absent from the Cochabamba gathering was the president of regional heavyweight Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, who sent her international affairs adviser and a deputy foreign minister to the meeting.

The presidents and foreign ministers of Chile, Peru and Colombia, which have good relations with the United States, also stayed away. In a written statement, Colombia's foreign ministry called on Bolivia and the European governments involved to find a diplomatic solution.

Bolivia and Venezuela were also irked at receiving provisional arrest requests for Snowden from Washington, a move Bolivia called "illegal and unfounded".
The UNASUR statement (or UNASUR Six?), aka, Declaration of Cochabamba, called the overflight denials violations of international law and says that Evo was "virtually taken hostage" ("convirtiéndolo virtualmente en un rehén").

In this kind of diplomatic situation, it's important to keep in mind that politically operative assumptions are not the same as journalistically or legally documented facts. So far as I'm aware as of this writing, Washington has not admitted to pushing France, Italy, Portugal or Spain to withdraw overflight rights from Evo's plane. But it's a very plausible assumption, almost an inevitable one. Cenk Uygur in The Young Turks report does a decent job of framing that. He also addresses the uncertainty as to whether the plane was actually searched while it was on the ground in Vienna. Marcy Wheeler writes in Europe again stuck saying, "They told us they were sure" Emptywheel 07/05/2013:

In point of fact, it’s not yet clear Snowden wasn't on the plane. While Austrian authorities checked the passports of the known passengers on the plane, they apparently did not conduct a thorough search. And 3 Spaniards who showed up to conduct a search were denied entry (though Morales did stop in the Canary Islands, which would have provided another opportunity to conduct a search on Spanish territory, but by that point Morales was already making a literal international incident about his treatment).
Granovsky quotes Argentine human rights attorney Leandro Despouy, one of the authors of the 2009 UN special report that charged prisoners were being tortured in the Guantánamo gulag station, points out that some of the countries denying overflight rights to Evo's plane did grant overflight to American planes they knew to be carrying prisoners kidnapped by the United States.

Diana Cariboni and Jared Metzker comment on the Latin American angle to the story in Snowden Is No Trifling Matter IPS News 07/04/2013:

Morales' aircraft was rerouted and forced to land in Austria, where it was stuck on the tarmac for 14 hours. The governments implicated in the incident brandished technical explanations, and after hours of heated negotiations, the presidential jet was allowed to take off again.

While it was grounded, the plane and its passengers were apparently subjected to some kind of inspection, the scope of which is not yet clear. But afterwards, Austria's foreign minister, Michael Spindelegger, stated that there were only Bolivian citizens in the aircraft.

The incident violates international law, because aircraft carrying national leaders have diplomatic immunity. Bolivian diplomats complained at the United Nations that Morales had been "kidnapped" during the time he was grounded in Austria. And the indignation spread to other South American governments.
They also report on the diplomatic pressures the US is bringing against offers of asylum to Snowden. The highly unusual action against Evo Morales is part of this pressure:

Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue think tank, said "It seems either the U.S. had something to do (with the decision to deny the airspace) or it was done out of a sense of solidarity with the U.S.

It is possible they made the decision alone based on a recognition of how serious this issue is to the U.S."

Shifter said that normally such a drastic step would indicate a state of war. He described it as "An extreme overreaction ... Whatever one thinks about Snowden or Morales, it seems like this was disrespectful of international law."

He also said the incident "looks terrible in political terms.“It was out of proportion. It reflects a patronising, paternalistic mindset that stronger countries can bully weaker ones."

But he disagreed with Younger that it would facilitate a Latin American refuge for Snowden. "What this ultimately underscores is how seriously the U.S. regards this case," he said.

"It may be tempting to take Snowden in in order to needle the U.S., but the consequences of that will have to be taken into consideration. The U.S., for all its weaknesses, is still the U.S.," he said. [my emphasis]
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