Midway through the first leg of his trip to Africa, U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday vigorously downplayed any notion that the passage of Edward Snowden, the whistleblower behind The Guardian and Washington Post revelations of covert mass surveillance of Internet communications by the National Security Agency, through Hong Kong and Moscow could affect America’s ties with China or Russia.
Addressing a question from media in Dakar, Senegal, Mr. Obama said, “I’m not going to have one case of a suspect who we’re trying to extradite suddenly being elevated to the point where I’ve got to start doing wheeling and dealing and trading on a whole host of other issues simply to get a guy extradited.”
Mr. Obama also admitted that Mr. Snowden’s actions had revealed “some pretty significant vulnerabilities over at the NSA” that his administration had to solve, and that he was focused on preventing such an episode from recurring.
His remarks came even as CIA Director John Brennan was said to have launched a new “Honour the Oath” campaign “aimed at pressuring CIA officers to keep the intelligence agency’s secrets secret”, and intended to “reinforce our corporate culture of secrecy” through education and training. Ironically, even the internal memo in which Mr. Brennan discussed the campaign was leaked to the Associated Press.
Mr. Obama also confirmed that he had not called Chinese President Xi Jinping or Russian President Vladimir Putin personally, both because “I shouldn’t have to,” and also because this was something that was “routinely” dealt with between law enforcement officials in various countries and “not exceptional from a legal perspective”.
Responding to a query during a joint news conference with Senegal’s President Macky Sall, on whether he would consider using U.S. military assets to stop Mr. Snowden travelling from Moscow to another country, the President said, “No, I’m not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker.”
After facilitating the Guardian and Washington Post exposés on the NSA’s use of the PRISM and Boundless Informant programmes for large-scale Internet communications surveillance and telephone metadata to snooping,
Mr. Snowden fled initially to Hong Kong and then to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, where he is said to be stuck in the international transit section awaiting travel documents.
The U.S. revoked Mr. Snowden’s passport, reportedly on June 22, and Ecuadorian officials have confirmed since then that he has made an asylum application to their nation, one that is still under consideration. The Ecuador embassy in Washington has also put out a statement “strongly” rejecting “recent statements made by U.S. government officials containing detrimental, untrue, and unproductive claims about Ecuador”.
While America does not have an extradition treaty with Russia, it does have such arrangements with Hong Kong, despite which authorities did not stop Mr. Snowden from leaving the territory for Russia.
Keywords: Edward Snowden, NSA surveillance, PRISM, Obama administration, US foreign policy, US national security, WikiLeaks, NSA whistleblower, electronic snooping, US-Russia spat, Snowden extradition, Ecuador asylum