Special to WorldTribune.com
By Donald Kirk
As Donald Trump is inaugurated in Washington, it may be timely to wonder what if anything did Edward Snowden, in Moscow, have to do with his election.
Would Snowden be letting his skills go to waste? Might he be sharing notes with Russian friends on cyber-sleuthing and cyber-espionage ― and have advised on the hacking that Democrats claim was carried out by the Russians during the U.S. presidential campaign?
If that question seems unfair, some would say he behaved more than unfairly by revealing the secrets of the National Security Agency and CIA. Oh, that’s right, he did so for the sake of the American people, whom the NSA was betraying by spying on them.
Maybe so. Moreover, Snowden has given interviews insisting he’s had nothing to do with serving his Russian hosts. In fact, he’s criticized Russia’s record on human rights, and he says he’s earning his living giving lectures. He appears, in a conversation with Katie Couric on Yahoo, extremely poised, reasonable, well-spoken and self-contained.
Or is he putting on a terrific act – a consummate performance to match that of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who plays him in the Oliver Stone film, “Snowden”? How much real credibility can you give a guy who unloaded his story in a burst of global publicity and then fled the consequences?
Living comfortably in Russia, might Snowden have had second thoughts while Russia and the U.S. battle, at least rhetorically, from eastern Europe to the Middle East to Northeast Asia?
Those are questions to which we may not soon get answers.
President Obama, in one of his final acts in office, commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, who as Army Pfc. Bradley Manning provided Wikileaks with military documents obtained as an intelligence analyst in Iraq. Obama, however, skipped over Snowden, whose offenses were deemed far more damaging.
Now it looks like incoming President Trump will have to decide whether to come to Snowden’s rescue. Maybe Trump will ask how Snowden is doing in a summit with President Vladimir Putin, with whom he’s been on such good terms, and see if Russia will extradite him.
Before he acts on Snowden’s behalf, however, Trump might want some reassurance from Putin that he hasn’t been helping Russian cyber-sleuths. That might be a prerequisite for a plea deal under which Snowden would face a pro forma trial, get off on probation ― and then make a fortune from books and interviews.
Whether Snowden will ever tell the world the full story of what he’s been up to in Russia, however, is doubtful. The guy appears, in characterization on film and in person in interviews, as a genius who would be as good at covering up his activities as at revealing those of the NSA. He might have a future as an actor ― playing himself.
Questions about Snowden go beyond his relations with possible Russian colleagues.
How’s he been helping the Chinese and North Koreans in their own programs of cyber-espionage against South Korea ― and the USA? In ten days in a hotel room in Hong Kong, what did he tell the Chinese before spilling his secrets to the world and fleeing to Russia? And would he have also chatted with North Koreans after getting to Moscow?
A noted author, Edward Jay Epstein, in a book called “How America Lost Its Secrets: Edward Snowden, the Man and the Theft,” suggests that Snowden also carried with him a ton of documents that he figured the Russians would love. There’s even the inference that maybe he was spying all along while working for the NSA in Hawaii.
The Snowden story is bound to get bigger. Oliver Stone makes him a hero, a martyr. It would be interesting to know what Snowden knows about Russian cyber-warfare against the U.S. ― or how the North Koreans hacked into Sony in retaliation for the gross satire of Kim Jong-Un in the film “The Interview.”
North Korea should invite Snowden to Pyongyang as a guest consultant. At least that would provide some relief from the humdrum routine of life in Moscow.
Donald Kirk watched “Snowden” on the plane from Washington DC to Korea. He’s at email@example.com