After the largest leak in NSA history, the unprecedented scale of the PRISM global spying program sparked a global controversy. Whistle-blower Edward Snowden, responsible for the release has been at the eye of the storm of international attention as he left Hong Kong to find sanctuary.
The tired drumbeat of government rhetoric grew louder, with officials calling Snowden a 'traitor' and 'villain', while Hong Kong citizens and others around the world rallied in support of him. Apparently the idea that anyone virtually anywhere in the world has a huge unaccountable government constantly spying on them didn't sit well with a lot of people.
On Friday, the US revealed it had charged Snowden with three felonies, including two under the Espionage Act, the 1917 statute enacted to criminalize dissent against World War I. Despite Obama's campaign promise of transparency and protection for whistleblowers, Snowden is the seventh person to be indicted under Espionage Act by Obama's highly secretive administration.
Two days after the charges were announced, the former NSA contractor left Hong Kong on an Aeroflot flight bound for Moscow. This was reportedly his first stop on the way to South America. With help from WikiLeaks' legal team, Snowden had applied for asylum in Ecuador. On Saturday, his passport was revoked by the US, yet he was allowed to exit Hong Kong through lawful channels with a refugee document of passage supplied by the Ecuadoran government.
The Hong Kong Special Autonomous Region (HKSAR) released their response to the US government's issue of a provisional warrant of arrest for Snowden. The statement claimed that the U.S government didn't provide the necessary documents, thus the Hong Kong government had no legal basis to interfere with the NSA leaker as he was leaving the country. It also included remarks by the Chinese government regarding their concern about Snowden's revelation of the US government hacking of computer systems of major Chinese telecom carriers and a prestigious university in Hong Kong. They requested an explanation of this egregious US government invasion on Chinese civilian infrastructure. China's Xinhua news agency called these actions "troubling signs" and said "they demonstrate that the United States, which has long been trying to play innocent as a victim of cyber attacks, has turned out to be the biggest villain in our age."
The timing of this open challenge to the hegemony of the US government is striking. It comes at a time when the authority and legitimacy of major Western aligned governments is being increasingly challenged by their own people. Even though the news has been suppressed, huge anti-government uprisings are ongoing in a number of countries that are generally allies of the US. In Turkey, police continue to attack peaceful protesters with water cannons and tear gas. In Brazil, a million demonstrators took to the streets as part of a sweeping nationwide movement against government corruption and inequality. In Rome on Saturday about 100,000 people marched to protest crippling austerity and soaring unemployment.
Hong Kong Rally to Support Snowden by See-ming Lee 李思明 SML
Despite the mainstream media's reluctance to cover the uprisings, images from the streets are coursing through social media networks and breaking the walls that have insulated the public from the decay and imminent breakdown of the neoliberal empire. The message is clear. From Istanbul to São Paulo, people around the world are questioning the legitimacy of their own governments. The Guardian's Peter Beaumont argued that the growing global protests is a sign of a loss of faith in the political state. Drawing from the Global Edelman Trust Barometer that measures public confidence in institutions, Beaumount suggested there is a loose inverse relationship between the scale of trust and likelihood of protests. In his article, Beaumount cited author Paul Mason's take on the trend of global uprisings and contends how these social movements are driven mostly by online networks and a growing recognition of the systemic abuse of power in modern corporate-dominated political systems.
While countries are going through social and political upheaval, Whistleblower Snowden's saga has drawn international attention and appears to be adding fuel to the growing distrust of the imperial authority exercised by the US government.
There is no doubt that Snowden became the face and symbol of dissent against the NSA's secret operation, but he also has come to represent the ordinary citizen anywhere in the world that sees this type of system as a blatant abuse of power and has concluded they won't tolerate it anymore.
The revelation of the global NSA surveillance reminds us that we live in an interconnected world and the global impact of government foreign policies carried out under the hollow guise of national security affects everyone in the world, in mostly negative ways.
This leak shed light on an invasion the US government has been carrying out all along in secret. This draconian Stasi-like system effectively has no oversight and violates the 4th amendment by spying on its own citizens with no due process. At a global level, it revealed the true actions behind the façade of hypocritical US rhetoric touting itself as an internet freedom advocate.
After identifying himself as the source behind the leak, Snowden spoke of anticipated risks of his deed:
You can't come forward against the world's most powerful intelligence agencies and be completely free from risk, because they're such powerful adversaries that no one can meaningfully oppose them. If they want to get you, they'll get you, in time." He continued "But at the same time, you have to make a determination about what it is that's important to you.
After the US filed espionage charges against Snowden, they canceled his US passport. Michael Ratner, President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and attorney for WikiLeaks spoke about this aggressive move by the US. He said it has no legal basis as there is no international arrest warrant for him and that it is just meant to intimidate other countries so the US can maintain its dominance in the world:
They're trying to bully other countries, not only by pulling his passport away so that he can't travel, but by saying, "Send him back to us. Don't take him in. There will be consequences." But none of those are legal. They're all just a big country beating up on small countries ...