The Edward Snowden Case Monitor

June 26, 2013

Amnesty International Condemns Violations of Snowden’s Human Rights By U.S. Government



In an important development today, Amnesty International stated that “The US authorities’ relentless campaign to hunt down and block whistleblower Edward Snowden’s attempts to seek asylum is deplorable and amounts to a gross violation of his human rights.”

This is significant because the international press coverage of the Snowden drama has almost completely ignored the question of whether Snowden’s rights are being violated by U.S. efforts to prevent him from seeking asylum under international law. 

It will be interesting to see if any of the major media outlets covering these events will report on this important and apparently well-grounded legal argument, given that they have reported on the Obama administration’s arguments that countries are legally obligated to hand Snowden over to the United States.  Also, Amnesty International is one of the most important human rights organizations in the world, and its statement should be relevant to news reporting on the Snowden case.

Read the full Amnesty International statement here.


Snowden’s Revelations Go from Being a “Serious Breach” to Not “Significant” as Obama Administration Shifts Message


As we have previously noted, the Obama administration has reversed course, seeking to lower the profile of the Snowden case after its threats against Russia, Ecuador, and Hong Kong backfired and after apparently realizing that public support for Snowden remains high despite a U.S. government-led effort to demonize him in the media. This has resulted in a litany of mixed messages from senior administration officials.

Is the Obama administration simply disorganized, or has the strategy changed over time as information about the Snowden case and government surveillance reaches wider and wider audiences? Also, what is the overall strategy of the government as an international effort develops to protect the right to privacy and the right to asylum?  We try to answer some of these questions here.


Gentlemen Don’t Read Each Other’s Mail


A reporter went after State Department Spokesman Patrick Ventrell at the State Department’s Daily Press Briefing today about European anger in response to Snowden’s revelations of U.S. surveillance of European officials and citizens. Here we will quote at length because the exchange was amusing and revealing:

QUESTION: When discussing this issue, the – with the Europeans or others who might be upset or are saying that they’re upset, the U.S. position is that all countries engage in intelligence gathering and this shouldn’t come as a surprise to you?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not going to get into the content of that diplomatic exchange, other than to say that we’re going to have it very directly and privately with the countries concerned.


QUESTION: Change topic?

QUESTION: Hold on, I’m just – but you’re not admitting any wrongdoing, though?

MR. VENTRELL: I didn’t say that. I said we’ll have our —

QUESTION: I know. I want to make sure that I understand, when these conversations happen, you’re not saying, “Oh, sorry.”

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m just not going to characterize —

QUESTION: You’re not – you’re explaining what you do, and you’re saying, “This isn’t unusual and you probably do it as well.”

MR. VENTRELL: To take the lens back a little bit, I think a number of these countries are countries we have a very strong relationship with on a number of fronts —

QUESTION: Or you did, at least, have a very strong relationship with.

MR. VENTRELL: — that we share intelligence with, and that’s beneficial to all of our countries concerned. So I’m just not going to —

QUESTION: Well, your line about strong relationships based on shared values seems to be a bit betrayed by the fact that apparently you don’t share values, or at least one particular value, with these countries that are expressing outrage. Now, it’s one thing if you think that this is all just for show and they’re complaining about something that they do themselves and should have known that you guys were doing it. But I think it’s hard to pretend – if that’s not the case, it’s hard for you to make the case that you have shared values with the Europeans when they – and that they’re saying that you don’t. They don’t – at least they don’t share this value.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we’re going to follow up very directly with these governments in private, and we’ll do so and continue to do so.

QUESTION: Right. Who was it, do you recall, who said. “Gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail”?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, Matt —

QUESTION: Do you remember that? (Laughter.) Do you know who said that?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t know who said that.

QUESTION: Secretary of State Stimson.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, thank you for the historical lesson. You learn a new thing every day.

QUESTION: Well, yes. Now, one could argue that it was a mistake not to read other people’s mail, but I think you either have to defend it or apologize for it, and I don’t think you can do that just privately when this didn’t just impact governments, it impacted —

MR. VENTRELL: Matt, I encourage you to look back at what the President said. I know he just spoke this morning; the transcript has just come out. But he spoke at length about this, about his relationship with some of these key foreign leaders and how he has direct contact with them, and that’s what he needs to have a good read on what’s their mindset. I think the President talked about this at great length already today.

QUESTION: What do you make of calls within Europe, some politicians suspending or freezing the bilateral free trade agreement talks that are supposed to begin a week from today?

MR. VENTRELL: We think that these free trade talks have the potential to lead to great economic benefit to both European citizens and to U.S. citizens, and so we’ll continue to pursue them because they’re good for the people of the U.S. and they’re good for Europeans as well. So we’ll continue to pursue those, but I’d really refer to USTR for any status update there.

QUESTION: The next question is about —

QUESTION: So you said that it’s going to be direct bilateral contact between U.S. and European country —

MR. VENTRELL: That’s true.

QUESTION: — but you don’t have a schedule of they’re going to talk —

MR. VENTRELL: Right. Through diplomatic —

QUESTION: — the ambassador in Italy, for example, represent Italian —

MR. VENTRELL: We’re going to be in discussion through diplomatic and intelligence channels directly with these countries, but we’re not going to read out each individual exchange.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Have you guys lost moral high ground on surveillance issues? I mean, the United States is constantly criticizing Iran and China for human rights abuses, surveillance issues.

MR. VENTRELL: I think you’ve heard me very categorically reject some of those comparisons over the past week or so and I’ve done so on a number of times, and we continue to reject those comparisons.

QUESTION: Can we change topics?

MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, could you talk a little bit about why – I mean, the list of countries that the U.S. was spying on is very extensive and includes allies like Japan, the Republic of Korea, countries where you couldn’t really make the case that the U.S. is intelligence gathering for the purpose of, say, like fighting terrorism. But do you have anything on why —

MR. VENTRELL: I’m just not going to get into any further details of our intelligence methods from here.


The “Snowden Aviation Club” and Other Options: How Edward Snowden Gets To Start a New Life



With Edward Snowden stuck in limbo in the Moscow airport transit space, many people in the United States and around the world are wondering what can be done to help him.  More than 123,000 Americans have signed a petition on the White House web site saying that “Edward Snowden is a national hero and should be immediately issued a full, free, and absolute pardon.”  Other petitions of support have gathered as many as 1.3 million.

Actually there is quite a bit that can be done by various actors to help Snowden reach a safe place where he can be free from persecution by the U.S. government.

The governments of Ecuador, Russia, and Venezuela have invited Snowden to apply for asylum, and there is little doubt that it would be granted.  The legal basis for political asylum is very strong, especially since the U.S. government has charged Snowden under the Espionage Act.  Since it is pretty clear that there was no espionage involved here – no evidence that he collaborated or even met with any foreign governments – this is one obvious indicator that Snowden has a well-founded fear of persecution. And politically, despite efforts by much of the media to brand Snowden a criminal and a traitor, most of the world appears to sympathize with him.  Any government that helps him would almost certainly have popular support at home.

Click here to read Mark’s full piece, written for the Guardian, and learn more about what you can do to support Snowden!


Obama retreats on Snowden


Mark Weisbrot’s latest column in Al Jazeera English (AJE) looks at Obama’s tactical retreat from the global effort to capture Snowden.


Hollywood Celebrities, Prominent Whistleblowers, Latin America Experts and Others Urge Correa to Grant Snowden Asylum 6/27/2013

Dozens of actors, directors, authors, former whistle-blowers, musicians, journalists, and activists have signed onto a letter addressed to President Correa urging him to grant political asylum to Edward Snowden. As Popwrapped! has noted, the many famous signatories to the letter are not the only celebrities to have openly shown their support for Snowden; others who have done so over Twitter include Tom Morello, Mark Ruffalo and Yoko Ono.

The letter is signed by Oliver Stone, Noam Chomsky, Tom Hayden, Daniel Ellsberg, Danny Glover, John Cusack, Amber Heard, Shia LaBeouf, Roseanne Barr, Naomi Klein, Boots Riley, Juan Cole, Cenk Uygur, Jacob Appelbaum (developer of The Tor Project), Medea Benjamin and Jodie Evans (Cofounders of CODEPINK), and over 10,000 others.

The letter was circulated by Just Foreign Policy and is posted on their website.

Read on for a full description of the letter, as well as a list of the whistleblowers and Latin America scholars who support asylum for Snowden.  

Ecuador Ruins U.S. Policymakers Fun 6/27/2013

There has been a chorus from policymakers, media outlets, and others urging a cutting of U.S. trade preferences for Ecuador if the Ecuadorean government grants Edward Snowden political asylum – despite that one of the main goals of the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) is to reduce coca cultivation. As the Wall Street Journal reported today, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez issued a stern and patronizing warning to Ecuador:

“Our government will not reward countries for bad behavior,” said Mr. Menendez in a news release. If Ecuador grants Mr. Snowden asylum, Mr. Menendez said he would lead the effort to cut Ecuador’s duty-free access to the U.S. market. “I urge President [Rafael] Correa to do the right thing by the United States and Ecuador, and deny Snowden’s request for asylum.”

But now the Ecuadorean government has ruined Congress’ fun by giving up the ATPDEA benefits before Senator Menendez et al had a chance to take them away. This move is not merely symbolic. Before the whole Snowden issue came up the government of Ecuador and its embassy in the U.S. launched a large campaign to emphasize the importance of the ATPDEA, with events around Washington and ads in the D.C. Metro.

Read more here.


President Correa, Put Your Shield Over Edward Snowden 6/27/2013

Robert Naiman, Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy, has a column published by Huffington Post that makes the case for Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa to grant Snowden’s application for asylum.  He says:

The Obama administration’s unprecedented crackdown on government whistleblowers is a direct threat to Americans’ efforts to reform U.S. foreign policy to make it more just. If we don’t know for sure what the U.S. government is doing, we can’t have an effective democratic debate about what U.S. policy should be.


To counter this government-media campaign to “convict Snowden in the media,” we’ve worked with Oliver Stone, Noam Chomsky, Tom Hayden, Daniel Ellsberg, Danny Glover and FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley to initiate a letter from Americans to Ecuador’s President Correa, urging him to grant Snowden’s application for asylum. At this writing, more than 9000 Americans have signed.

Whistleblowers should be able to expose government wrongdoing without getting the Bradley Manning treatment. If you care about effective democratic control of U.S. foreign policy, please sign our appeal to President Correa.


Why Ecuador would be an ideal refuge for Edward Snowden 6/27/2013

If Edward Snowden can make it to Ecuador, it will be a good choice for him and the world. The government, including the president, Rafael Correa, and the foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, proved their steadfastness in the face of threats and abuse last year when they granted asylum to WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange.

The media took advantage of the fact that most of the world knows very little about Ecuador to misinform their audience that this government “represses the media”. The same efforts are already under way in the Snowden case. Without defending everything that exists in Ecuador, including criminal libel laws and some vague language in a new communications law, anyone who has been to the country knows that the international media has presented a gross caricature of the state of press freedom there. The Ecuadorian private media is more oppositional than that of the US, trashing the government every day.

Unfortunately, groups like Americas Watch (of Human Rights Watch) and the Committee to Protect Journalists, which do good work in some countries, have joined Washington’s campaign against Ecuador, publishing gross exaggerations. These groups should be a bit more worried about the chilling effect that the Obama administration’s unprecedented prosecution of whistleblowers has had on investigative journalism in the United States.

Read Mark’s full column published in the Guardian.


Obama Team Doing Better With Media than Diplomacy in Snowden Battle 6/27/2013

Earlier I wrote about how dumb it was for our Secretary of State to try and threaten other countries, especially those as big and independent as Russia and China, into rendering Edward Snowden. Apparently some of the geniuses in the White House and State Department have figured this out after the last couple of days of embarrassing failures.  On the other hand, the Obama team has been doing better in the more important media efforts than they have in diplomacy, mainly because they have reliable allies in the media with a lot of power to manipulate public opinion.

But why do other journalists seem to hate on Glenn Greenwald so much?  And why did the US charge Snowden with the Espionage Act, which inevitably backfired?

For the answers, read Mark’s full analysis.


“Now, with Edward Snowden’s stay in Moscow, where do US-Russia relations stand?” 6/26/2013

That’s one of the questions posed by RT’s “Cross Talk” program in its debate on the Snowden case between CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot and Ariel Ratner of the Truman National Security Project (and formerly with the Obama administration State Department).


Will the U.S. Cut Off its Coke-Snorting Nose to Spite its Face? 6/26/2013

An article in The Hill today examines calls from members of Congress – including House Ways and Means Ranking Member Rep. Sander Levin (D – MI) to end trade preferences for Ecuador under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA), which is up for renewal.

This is not the first time U.S. policy makers have made this threat; some have advocated either the termination – or the threat of termination – of the trade preferences almost ever since Correa, and his Bolivian counterpart, Evo Morales, were first elected if they were to pursue policies the U.S. government doesn’t like. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting notes that the Washington Post’s editorial yesterday urging Ecuador be punished with ending ATPDEA preferences, if it grants asylum to Snowden, closely echoes one it made last year as Ecuador weighed Julian Assange’s asylum request.

But as The Hill article (which incorrectly states that Assange has been charged in Sweden) points out – and as should be evident from the name – the ATPDEA is meant to curb drug production by “getting impoverished farmers to cultivate flowers and broccoli instead of coca leaves.” So while the Act is supposed to “suppor[t] 320,000 Ecuadoran jobs” it is, not surprisingly, not legislation with purely altruistic motives; it also is meant to benefit the U.S. Such initiatives – getting coca farmers to produce other crops rather than (much more profitable) coca which can made into cocaine that winds up in American’s noses – are some of the more enlightened aspects of U.S. counternarcotics policy. Will members of Congress really do something that by their own logic will harm the U.S. – just to punish Ecuador if it decides to help Snowden avoid the same “cruel, inhuman” treatment that Bradley Manning has suffered?


U.S. Threats to Other Countries on Snowden Not Working Very Well

What’s up with John Kerry, or whoever is writing his talking points?  Did he really think he was going to publicly threaten Russia and bully its government into capturing Snowden and rendering him to the U.S.?  (Wikileaks has correctly noted that such a capture and hand-over would be a “rendition,” analogous to the people the U.S. and allied governmental agencies have captured and turned over to countries like Egypt and Syria to be tortured).

There would be “consequences,” warned Kerry, if the Russians didn’t do what he wanted – and for China and Hong Kong too.  Russia doesn’t even have an extradition treaty with the U.S., and even if it did, it would be Kerry’s threats to interfere with the laws of asylum and refugees that were the real violation of international law here, not Russia’s allowing him to remain in Russia, or pass through its airport.

An amateur could have told Kerry that if he really wanted to threaten Russia, he should have at least had the sense to do it in private.  A public threat just makes it even less likely that any leader would embarrass himself by following U.S. orders.  Not that Putin was likely to do that anyway.

Putin poked fun at these threats yesterday when he declared that Snowden is a “free man,” and brushed aside the whole affair as like “shearing a piglet – a lot of squealing but not much wool.”

Read more about Kerry’s blunder here.


Why Might Ecuador Grant Snowden Political Asylum? 6/26/2013

Various U.S. media outlets suggest ulterior motives for why Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa may want to consider granting political asylum to whistle-blower Edward Snowden. The Christian Science Monitor, for example, writes “In championing Snowden, President Correa is further cementing his image as a successor to Chávez who can take on the US.” The Washington Post projected a similar theme with an article headlined, “Through Snowden, Ecuador seeks fight with U.S.” Public Radio International’s The World likewise headlined a piece with “Ecuador Leader Thumbs Nose at US, Trying to Help Snowden with Asylum.”

But commentaries from scholars more familiar with Latin America and U.S.-Latin American relations suggest such motives being attributed to Ecuador are overly simplistic, and suggest others. Read more here.


CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot: Ecuador or Another Country Should Grant Asylum to Snowden 6/26/2013

A new press release from Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), says Snowden should be granted asylum:

Ecuador should grant National Security Agency (NSA) whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s asylum request since it is a case “not of espionage, but of whistle-blowing,” Center for Economic and Policy Research Co-Director Mark Weisbrot said today. Weisbrot added that Snowden’s actions had revealed important information regarding illegal activities by the U.S. government that violate the rights of people around the world, and that as long as he is free, he will be able to reveal more government wrongdoing.

“It is important that everyone who believes in freedom to defend Ecuador from Washington’s threats, which are very likely if the Ecuadorean government grants asylum to Snowden,” Weisbrot said. “Other governments around the world – whose citizens’ rights have been violated by NSA surveillance overreach – should stand behind Ecuador if it chooses to grant Snowden asylum, as should NGO’s.”


Weisbrot noted that there is no evidence to support a charge of espionage.  Snowden released information of U.S. government wrongdoing to the press, not to any foreign government; and this information was vetted to make sure that it did not harm any security interests. Snowden did not collaborate with any foreign government in the release of the information. 

“To charge Snowden with espionage is a severe form of political persecution,” Weisbrot said.

For the full statement, click here.

Support Cepr


If you value CEPR's work, support us by making a financial contribution.

Si valora el trabajo de CEPR, apóyenos haciendo una contribución financiera.

Donate Apóyanos

Keep up with our latest news