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
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.