By Patricia H. Kushlis
It’s not quite cucumber time in Russia. That’s at its height in August. The days are long; the nights are short but I suppose that doesn’t matter much for someone holed up in Sheremetyevo’s transit lounge unless of course there are no blackout curtains to block the incessant northern light pouring in at all hours just days after this year’s summer solstice. That, in and of itself, could become a kind of mental torture chamber – as one waits for two great powers to decide one’s fate. Just keep the lights on all night – wait a minute – just keep those curtains open. That’s enough.
Will Snowden or won’t Snowden be allowed out of this never-never land? As importantly, what price are the Russians demanding for his release? And what is the US willing to pay to get him back? Not in hard cash – but in some kind of quid-pro-quo to which the public may never be privy.
Someone we’re holding they want returned? A Russian spy, for instance, quietly under detention in some US federal prison? Or upping the ante. . . A trade deal? The suspension of the Magnitsky Act thereby allowing 18 high level Russian crooks, torturers and murderers to once again visit the US and stash their cash in our banks? Or on the lighter side, another Barbeque Anna Chapman? What about assuaging Russia’s bugaboo with America’s nascent Missile Defense Shield? A little slowing down perhaps of the construction?
How much is Snowden worth? Or maybe the US should just say to the Russians – he’s yours as long as you keep him quiet and never let him leave. Moscow’s such a wonderful place to live in winter when its 40 below. Not. You already know what he knows but keep his computer connection away from the Internet.If the media’s reading of Putin’s remarks in Helsinki had been correct, then why is Snowden still lounging next to the tarmac and not sitting comfortably on a plane winging its way to somewhere else? Or more likely be already somewhere else? In fact, there are few places for Snowden to go where he would not be arrested and turned over to US authorities – as Elias Groll pointed out in FP those locations are even more circumscribed by limited airline connections. None of them look particularly appealing to me – and that includes a forever residency in Ecuador - but then few fugitives can be choosy. And who’s going to support him and his Internet connection? Wikileaks or another country’s intelligence service? Those options don’t look so good to me either.
Hello Congress - Diplomacy is an important part of National Security
Despite the bombastic language coming from the Hill’s Republican right wing or even a Politico report of Jay Carney’s White House press briefing stating that the US has not ruled out any options (a good negotiator would never say that anyway), this is a national security issue whose solution will rely upon America’s diplomats to deal with their Russian counterparts.
This means employing the age old diplomatic skill of negotiation. It’s sitting down at the chess board, talking across the table and using strategy to find an equitable deal. This may take time but it’s the way the US and Russians have successfully dealt with each other for years. So put aside visions of pistol duels, now antiquated invasion forces across the Fulda Gap, or sending up missiles or fighter jets to bring down a commercial airliner (the USG won’t want its own KAL catastrophe to blot its copybook). Think more, if you will, about the exchange of prisoners (or refuseniks) for detained KGB officers at Berlin's Glienicke Bridge.
Keeping the Government’s Secrets Secret
But the US – and that includes members of Congress – should think about how the country was saddled with a Snowden to begin with. No I don’t mean his questionable motives that are coming to light but about why the government relies on nearly untried contractors – or contractors at all – to fill positions that provide access to America’s deepest secrets. Is the US government so desperate for IT specialists that it can’t or won’t hire them directly and pay them salaries commensurate with what they would receive in the private sector? If that’s the problem, then this country needs to revise its civil service standards and salary scales accordingly or expect Snowden to be just the tip of the iceberg.
Meanwhile the US needs to rethink its approach to the “private sector” contracting business especially by public sector departments and agencies entrusted with keeping the government’s secrets secret. Maybe there’s just too close proximity between the government and certain “private sector” contractors for the country’s good – except to enrich the pockets of high level contractors. In this case the National Security Agency and Booz Allen but also don’t forget the Blackwater fiascos and the US Defense and State Departments during the height of the Iraq War.
And maybe the government (and that includes Congress) should also reconsider whether such expensive, extensive and intrusive data collection is even constitutional, necessary or in the country’s interest. But that’s another topic for another day.
See also: East Asia Forum, Has Snowden Left International Relations Stuck in a Transit Lounge, July, 7, 2013.