CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot did an interview via email with one of Greece’s leading daily newspapers, Eleftherotypia last week. The interview, which occurred prior to the news that Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia had offered political asylum to Edward Snowden, appears in Eleftherotypia today. Mark’s original responses, in English, appear below:
Eleftherotypia: Why do you think Snowden did it? He has destroyed his life now. Does he have a very high sense of justice or is there something else behind it?
Mark Weisbrot: I think he explained his reasons very eloquently in his first public interview, with Glenn Greenwald, and especially this:
I’m no different from anybody else. I don’t have special skills. I’m just another guy who sits there, day to day, in the office, watches what happening, and goes, "This is something that’s not our place to decide. The public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong."
I think he strongly believes this. He is against the idea of government deciding major issues of public policy in secret.
What will happen to him? How do you see the asylum requests developing?
He has at least three countries -- Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela -- that are almost guaranteed to give him asylum. There are numerous others that would give him asylum or refugee status if he showed up in their territories, which includes their embassies. So the main problem right now is transportation. But I think that will be resolved, sooner or later.
Will the U.S. use the carrot-and-stick policy in order to make sure no country offers him asylum so they can get him back to face justice?
They are trying very, very hard to do that. But they are losing -- contrary to what you might read or hear in the international media. First, as I mentioned, there are several countries willing to give him asylum or refuge. This includes Russia, which he rejected because of their conditions. Second, they cannot push everyone around indefinitely. France in particular was embarrassed by this latest episode where they blocked Evo Morales' plane from passing through their air space, on the false rumor that Snowden may have been aboard. Spain, which considers its relations with Latin America to be important especially because of its large investments and commerce there, also paid a price for being Washington's thug in this case. So there are costs to their strategy.
How do you judge Obama’s strategy so far?
It has been one blunder after another. The first blunder was to think that he could bully Russia and China into taking orders from Washington, and threatening them in public! This was very stupid. Obama then realized this and shifted strategy, pretending that this was just a normal law enforcement matter and no big deal. But we can see that this is a ridiculous assertion, especially after he got the governments of France, Spain, Portugal, and possibly others to violate international law and force down Evo Morales' plane.
This is indeed a very big deal to the Obama administration, and to the U.S. foreign policy establishment. It has become a test of their imperial power, their ability to get other governments to obey their will in a high profile drama. They are going to do everything they can to get Snowden. But I think they will lose. See our blog and my recent columns for more on this.
Comment on the damage to the U.S.-E.U. relationship -- is it fair to spy on your allies?
Well clearly the European governments are angered, and probably the European people much more. But these governments are not going to do anything. They are only making noise because of popular anger. They have cast their lot with the American empire, and except in cases where their own governments might fall for going along with Washington, they are not going to fight with the U.S. government simply because the U.S. government wronged them. They do not have that kind of independence or courage.
Where is the line between privacy and national security, public interest?
Well this is an interesting question but I'm not sure it's relevant to the NSA scandal. Most of the spying revealed by Snowden had little or nothing to do with national security. The U.S. government has always spied on its citizens in order to gather actionable intelligence to use against them, the citizens, when the public organizes against the government. This is nothing new at all; what's new is the technology that enables a wider net. Todd Gitlin has a nice review of these practices here and I have also written about it.
What do the revelations mean for all of us and for the Internet? Are nobody's secrets safe? Will we see new rules arise to address similar issues?
Well it's true that nobody's secrets are safe from the NSA, if they are mentioned in a phone call or email or other electronic communication. There are some efforts in the U.S. Congress to bring them under control, but it will be a long an uphill struggle to contain these abuses.