Edward Snowden is the focus of the biggest manhunt ever undertaken by a government, under the hoary Espionage Act of 1917, and more specifically under the Patriot Act of 2001, enacted after the Twin Towers attack. The latter eliminated legal impediments to wiretaps undertaken by US federal authorities. The administration is now scrutinizing the personal profiles of masses of security-linked employees, to lessen the risk of any repetition of the Snowden incident.
The latest twist in the case of the CIA employee, now granted asylum in Russia and accused by Washington of divulging state secrets, is the cancellation of the summit that Obama was to attend in Moscow with Putin. But the decision to thus rap the knuckles of the world's second nuclear power conceals rather than reveals the real interests of the US.
The cancellation's full import emerges only in the framework of the public and private series of warnings, to allies, friends, employees and adversaries (which include Spain), of the dire consequences entailed by any help the analyst might receive in leaving Russia, where it is assumed he will not release any more compromising material, as his land of refuge has demanded.
Washington is thus warning the world that it will not desist in its resolve to bring the whole weight of the law to bear on anyone who dares to use telecommunications technology against the very power that has been secretly using it to spy on all of us. The operation keeps producing unhealthy effects, which condition the work of journalism and public information in general. The president of the Associated Press, Gary Pruitt, says that security-linked sources are drying up fast, and that in Washington "off-the-record" comments by politicians and civil servants are on their way to becoming a thing of the past.
Russia is really doing the US a favor by keeping the hacker and the leaker quiet
But the final irony is that the summit's cancellation in no way harms the United States, for two reasons. First, because nothing positive was expected of the Moscow meeting. Not on the civil war in Syria, the Iranian nuclear issue, or on the negotiation between the two powers over a reduction of their atomic arsenals were there any serious expectations that Russia would lend Washington a hand. So Obama has saved himself a waste of time on a meeting which was doomed to failure, and can leave the encounter for a better moment. And second, because Russia is doing the US another big favor by keeping Snowden quiet. If the analyst fell into its hands, the content of the four computers, in which he claims to have so much valuable information -- and which are hidden in a safe place -- would probably be divulged by the libertarian hacker's collaborators or accomplices.
It falls squarely into the terrain of realpolitik that Washington is pursuing Snowden as a criminal; that it so universally threatens anyone who might follow in his steps. All the more so after the precedent of Julian Assange, who has spent the last 14 months as a refugee holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. It is equally understandable that Putin wants to give Obama a poke in the eye at every opportunity, to demonstrate who has and who doesn't have sovereign independence. Then comes the fact that Assange and Snowden, preceded by Manning, have rendered a priceless service to Western public opinion, by revealing the extent of espionage. In 1900 the US had one telephone for every hundred homes, and in 2012, more phones than people. Is that the limit of American paranoia?
One year, the term of asylum initially granted by Russia, is time enough for anyone with a will to negotiate, especially when Snowden maintains that he has made public only such information as the public has a legitimate right to know, without endangering lives or the national interest. The situation, with the two fugitives in silence for the time being, but out of the reach of the United States, is the very image of diplomatic instability. Is an end to this conflict negotiable, then?