America's PR disaster over Snowden

By John Sexton
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, June 26, 2013
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They seek him here, they seek him there. Snowden the young whistleblower is making a fool of Obama.

Long before the digital age, British Prime Minister Harold Wilson remarked ruefully that a week is a long time in politics.

Face off [By Jiao Haiyang/]

The fortnight since his summit with Xi Jinping must seem like a century for Barack Obama. Then he planned to deliver a lecture on Chinese hacking and freebooting of commercial secrets. Now his government stands accused of organizing the most comprehensive eavesdropping program in history. U.S. agents are frantically hunting whistleblower Edward Snowden, who is turning into a modern Scarlet Pimpernel. Rarely do we see the tables turn so rapidly.

American commentators dismiss Snowden as an attention-seeking naïf; members of Congress denounce him as a traitor. In private, officials are calling for him to suffer all sorts of unpleasant consequences. He has been charged with espionage - no doubt to intimidate other potential whistleblowers.

But the U.S. is losing the battle for public opinion. Snowden's exposure of snooping on such a grand scale has dealt a massive blow to America's credibility and prestige. Flat-footed attempts to apprehend him and empty threats to China and Russia have compounded the image problem.

The emperor has no clothes

Washington's response to Snowden's leaks is paradoxical. On the one hand officials would dearly love to lock him up and throw away the key. On the other hand they want us to believe that his revelations are innocuous old news and no big deal.

In fact, Snowden is like the little boy in the story who said out loud what everybody knew already but was too polite to point out.

It is absurd to suggest his leaks have compromised national security. Only the most naive terrorists send plans via email. Even if they telegraphed their intentions on Facebook like the Boston Marathon bombers they would be overlooked because for every bomb thrower there are a thousand fantasists.

Snowden's real offense, the truly unforgiveable slight, like Bradley Manning's, was to dent the image of the United States.

Trust us, we're democrats

The U.S. and U.K. have a symbiotic relationship so it was no surprise that Snowden revealed close cooperation between the National Security Agency and GCHQ. The U.K. surveillance program - codenamed MTI (Mastering the Internet) - sounds even more ambitious than the NSA's PRISM.

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