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Commentary: From spycraft to stagecraft, Snowden debuts as Putin's 'useful idiot'
Published on April 25, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Anthony L Hall

Russian President Vladimir Putin is becoming notorious for staging the kind of town-hall dog and pony shows only North Korean President Kim Jong-Un could emulate. Actually, watching Putin field plainly rehearsed questions from members of his captive audience is rather like watching Zubin Mehta conduct perfectly pitched notes from members of his orchestra.

Anthony L. Hall is a Bahamian who descends from the Turks and Caicos Islands. He is an international lawyer and political consultant - headquartered in Washington DC - who also publishes a current events weblog, The iPINIONS Journal, at
Perhaps you’ve heard that, during his annual town hall last week, Putin finally admitted that Russian troops were in fact involved in fomenting the unrest he used as justification to annex Crimea.

But I am stupefied that so many Western reporters and commentators are reacting as if this sounded a discordant note. After all, Putin making this admission is no more discordant than Mehta conducting his orchestra in a transition from adagio to scherzo.

In other words, as abrupt an about face as Putin’s admission might appear, it was as predictable as the movements in a familiar symphony.

Putin had repeatedly denied sending any forces to Crimea ahead of the March referendum there that eventually led to the region’s annexation by Russia. Putin said the troops were deployed to protect Russian-speaking citizens in Crimea.

‘Of course we had our servicemen behind the self-defense units of Crimea,’ Putin said during an annual televised call-in with the nation on Thursday. ‘We had to make sure what is happening now in eastern Ukraine didn’t happen there.’

(The Associated Press, April 17, 2014)

And don’t forget that, in addition to this brazen denial, he also repeatedly denied having plans to annex Crimea … until he did.

But all of this is just Putin orchestrating what any student of history would recognize as the Big lie — of the type Hitler orchestrated to justify his aggression and which I presaged in “Putin as Hitler; Crimea as Sudetenland,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 26, 2014.

This is why the far more noteworthy part of this staged farce was Snowden’s command performance. For, like the useful idiot I predicted he would become, Snowden duly played his part by asking Putin if Russia spies on its citizens the way the United States does.

‘We don’t have a mass system of such interception, and according to our law, it cannot exist’…

Putin said that Russian Special Forces did use surveillance to thwart terrorists and criminals, but that it was regulated.

‘Our special services, thank God, are strictly controlled by the society and by the law and regulated by the law,’ he concluded.

(Russia Today, April 17, 2014)

Yet, remarkably, try as he did to distinguish his government’s surveillance from Obama’s, Putin unwittingly conceded that the difference was just a matter of degree. Indeed, what is truly ironic and laughable about his response is that it’s precisely how Obama has been responding to questions about America’s NSA program ever since Snowden leaked classified details about it:

My concern has always been not that we shouldn’t do intelligence gathering to prevent terrorism, but rather are we setting up a system of checks and balances…

You’ve got a federal court with independent federal judges overseeing the entire program. And you’ve got Congress overseeing the program – not just the intelligence committee and not just the judiciary committee, but all of Congress had available to it before the last reauthorization exactly how this program works.

(CBS News, June 18, 2013)

Therefore, how can anybody deny that, by taking up refuge in Putin’s Russia, Snowden has made a mockery of his one-man crusade against governments using all resources at their disposal to spy on their citizens? Especially given that everybody knows Russia is practically a police state compared to the United States.

Frankly, it’s arguable that, with respect to speaking out against the prevalence of government surveillance, Snowden has done nothing more than jump from the frying pan into the fire.

This fact seems to be finally dawning on him. Because reports over the weekend indicate that Snowden is sulking with resentment over Putin using him in this fashion to propagate such boldfaced lies.

NSA leaker Edward Snowden instantly regretted asking Russian President Vladimir Putin a softball question on live television about the Kremlin’s mass surveillance effort, two sources close to the leaker tell The Daily Beast.

‘It certainly didn’t go as he would’ve hoped,’ one of these sources said…

And so the leaker quickly decided to write an op-ed for the Guardian to explain his actions and to all but label Putin a liar for his televised response.

(The Daily Beast, April 20, 2014)

Except that this is rather like a woman moving in with a notorious pimp, and then sulking with resentment over him using her to perform sex acts for money.

Of course, the problem for Snowden is that, in fleeing to Russia to escape justice in America, he effectively gave Putin the power to treat him the way a pimp treats his prostitute. And complaining now that Putin is no different from Obama is meaningless because:

a) state-controlled media will allow Russians to hear only what Putin wants them to hear from Snowden; and

b) Westerners will quite rightly dismiss his whimpering criticisms of Putin as just Snowden performing another scripted propaganda stunt masquerading as free speech.

In any event, I think Snowden has exhausted his 15 minutes of fame. Therefore, the following excerpt from “I Said Putin Would Hand Snowden Over. I Was Wrong,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 25, 2013, will serve as my denouement on his NSA leaks as well as my good riddance to him:

Putin is using him as a stick to poke in the eye of the United States. Indeed, he appears to be grinning inside like a Cheshire cat every time he tries to convince the world that this American had to flee to Russia to escape political persecution back home … in America…

Snowden seems destined to emulate British double agent Kim Philby, who defected to the Soviet Union in 1963 and lived there (in Moscow) free of reprisals until his death in 1988. It is instructive to note, however, that this fabled “Third Man” lived out almost all of his 25 years in relative obscurity and penury, and not without palpable regret…

So don’t be surprised if a disillusioned Snowden ends up drinking himself to death too. After all, Philby’s Russian spymasters had just cause to treat him like a national hero, yet he still felt like little more than a Western mascot almost from day one.

By contrast, Snowden’s Russian wards have no reason to treat him like anything but a traitorous rat. Not least because Putin is a former KGB spy who prides loyalty to country above all else…

Not to mention the resentment Putin must be harboring over Snowden ending up in Russia only after his preferred Chinese spymasters extracted all they wanted out of and from him…

I fully appreciate that millions now consider Snowden a heroic, whistle-blowing defender of freedom and democracy. But the ultimate irony is that he is a self-righteous narcissist who is nothing more than a useful idiot to (de facto and de jure) totalitarian regimes (like those in Russia and China) whose very existence depends upon the doublethink his leaks are now fostering, as well as systematic violations of the very civil liberties he presumes to be championing.

Well, except that I feel obliged to note that, from the outset of this crisis, when pro-Western mobs ran Putin’s puppet Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych out of the country, I urged Obama and other Western leaders to heed the lessons of history. I pointed out in the above-referenced “Putin as Hitler; Crimea as Sudetenland” that this meant ignoring Putin’s words (i.e., the Big Lie) and preventing his military aggression by any means necessary.

Alas, just as their predecessors did with Hitler, these Western leaders have done little more than appease Putin. Which means that, instead of paying a relatively small price to stop him now, they will have to pay a much bigger price to stop him later. Like I said, penny wise and pound foolish.

Related commentaries:
Bill Gates Snowden no hero
Putin as Hitler
Ignorance prevails
Hand Snowden over

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