Last night I appeared on MSNBC’s “All In” with Chris Hayes to discuss Edward Snowden’s staying in Russia for a least a year. You can see the video here but thanks to the efforts of my good friend Eddy Elfenbein we have a transcript of the exchange between myself and Chris. Some comments of mine follow …
First question to Dinah Pokempner (HRW) about legalities of asylum, and she claims that it covers Snowden.
Chris: John, I know you feel very strongly that that is not the case. I’ve been following your very spirited Twitter, twitting about him. You don’t think he is deserving of asylum. In fact, you’ve called him a traitor, a defector and worse.
John: Yeah, look, Vladimir Putin said there are no former intelligence officers. I’m actually a former intelligence officer, despite that. And look, every intelligence service in the world understands that when an intelligence person takes refuge in a country where there’s a hostile intelligence service, that person is a defector. This is universally understood in the intelligence business , which is the world that Edward Snowden comes from and worked in most of his adult life.
Chris: Here’s my question to you. First of all, “universally understood” is not evidence. I understand that you’re saying this is the thing in ‘my world’ that people are saying, but that’s still not publicly accessible evidence for a person like myself. The second question for you is, if he was a defector—if this entire thing was him giving secrets to Vladimir Putin, why the whole rigmarole and the Guardian story and coming forward and publishing these stories and going to Hong Kong, when he could have gotten on a plane showed up in Moscow, and no one would have been the wiser?
John: I don’t think Edward Snowden is the master of his own narrative, and has not been, frankly, ever since he went to WikiLeaks apparently late last year. I think he has let WikiLeaks drive much of this show – I think, to his detriment and the detriment of the broader cause of legitimate whistle-blowing which that has been sacrificed on that altar. I blame Wikileaks much more, frankly, than Edward Snowden at this point. I think this has become a very different story maybe than even Edward Snowden himself wanted. We’d love to know.
Question to Dinah about damage to real whistle-blowers.
Chris: John, I’ve been following, you’ve been making this WikiLeaks connection. It seems to me that you’re imbuing them with a level of power that just doesn’t seem to actually match what they’ve done and where they are. If they were so powerful, Assange would not be holed up in an embassy, and the organization is essentially fallen apart. I need some convincing that WikiLeaks is the powerful force you make it out to be.
John: Julian Assange has gotten himself into quite a situation. It’s very clear that WikiLeaks doesn’t have a great deal on money of its own. But WikiLeaks has, in effect, put itself in bed with the Russians at this point. Their point man for the famous Moscow airport press conference, by his own admission, was Israel Shamir who is well known to be linked to Russian intelligence. It is a mistake to view WikiLeaks as an independent entity at this point. I’m sure they were 2010, but at this point, they are not. This has to be viewed in the context of a larger analysis, if you will, with the Russian government and with what WikiLeak’s actual agenda is. WikiLeaks, on its own, has very little power, but they are not functioning on their own at this point. It is not an accident that they’re in Russia.
Chris: You’re saying this entire thing at this point…I mean, the base contention here is the entire thing at this point is being managed by the Putin regime, the FSB, the intelligence services of Russia, who are
John: Sure, of course.
Chris: …making everything go.
Turns to Dinah about humans rights in Russia. She says that this choice of Russia isn’t telling or nefarious, and that, “The U.S. government has driven him to Russia.”
Chris: You don’t think that true, that he’s been driven to Russia? It seems like he has…
John: …no. of course not… (mild Schindlerian snicker)
Chris: …but I mean it looks like he wanted to stay in Hong Kong.
John: Right, and I’m not necessarily blaming Edward Snowden for this. Again, I’m not convinced that he’s the driver of much of this own destiny, at this point. There are questions about WikiLeaks, about Russian intelligence. Look, I’m disturbed to hear someone from HRW, which has stood up for human rights around the world, say that going to Russia seems to be a rational choice, at this point. I’m sorry. I really disagree with that.
Dinah: Well, I don’t think he has a lot of other choices right now. If he did, I bet he’d be taking them.
John: Venezuela seemed to want him. Well, there are several countries…
Chris: Well yes except America stopped Evo Morales’ plane from leaving European airspace when they thought they were smuggling Snowden on board.
John: Sure, I hear you. A Russian flag carrier headed to Havana would not be stopped by any U.S. government. That is just a fact. It’s a different order of magnitude problem.
COMMENTS: Aside from saying “at this point” a lot, I stand by all that. Although the deck was pretty clearly stacked – this was “All In” after all – I want to thank Chris Hayes for giving me a chance to answer questions without much interruption. I wish above all that there’d been more time to talk about Snowden in detail and to explain the counterintelligence, rather than legal-cum-moral, implications of what’s happened this week. I especially would have liked to have time to point out the absurdity of someone who claims to be motivated by government surveillance moving to Putin’s Russia. Maybe the next time.
On that, I’ve repeatedly challenged Glenn Greenwald to continue our TwitterWars in a real debate with sufficient time to actually discuss SIGINT and the Snowden case. Somehow, Glenn can’t find the time. Chris, you seem to know him pretty well, talk to Glenn. How about a full hour? Awesome that would be …