In November, a smoldering since the summer conflict around the officer of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), Edward Snowden entered on a new stage of development. On the first day of the month, Bundestag deputy, Hans-Christian Strobele, who met with Snowden in Moscow, delivered a message from the former intelligence agent to the Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel. The deputy also said that the fugitive ex-NSA agent would like to speak to the U.S. Congress on the issue of the U.S. intelligence services’ activity. In response, on 3 November, the chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Dianne Feinstein said that according to him, Edward Snowden does not deserve leniency of the country’s authorities. On the same day, the presidential adviser Dan Pfeiffer said the proposal for the pardon of Snowden is out of question. The Snowden case actually seems to have become actually very vulnerable for the Democratic administration.
Such a painful White House’s reaction is puzzling. Edward Snowden is charged to have given The Guardian and The Washington Post American newspapers secret information on the U.S. intelligence services spying upon citizens and leaders of other countries through information networks and communication facilities. In autumn they were supplemented by the charge that Snowden had passed to the French media and the German government the data on work of the U.S. intelligence services in these countries. However, such actions are not new in international relations. Former intelligence officers at various times received political asylum and made revelatory announcements: the names of Kim Philby, Viktor Suvorov and Oleg Gordievsky long ago received wide recognition. None of these cases caused strained relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union/Russia, or, all the more so, between the United States and its European allies.
Revelations by Edward Snowden were not of sensational character either. World-wide intelligence services are watching the leaders of other countries - as far as budget and technical equipment permit to do it. The United States has the world’s most powerful satellite constellation featuring high capabilities for observing and photographing the objects. The Americans made no secret of the fact that their Navstar GPS (Global Positioning System) was also used for intelligence purposes. China and India regularly took up the issue before the UN about the fact that the Global nuclear tests monitoring system under construction could be used by Washington for intelligence purposes. Suffice it to recall that the most powerful radar units are located on the territory of the U.S. allies - the Western European countries, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The data by Edward Snowden could only relate to the use by the NSA of individual projects in the field of communication: PRISM, X-Keyscore, and Tempora.
Edward Snowden’s messages about the NSA spying upon the European Union were not a sensation either. The ‘Foreign Europe’ since the cold war has had on its territory a powerful infrastructure of the U.S. intelligence. The U.S. intelligence services (including the NSA) routinely conducted supervision over the European NATO countries for two reasons: Firstly, Washington has always doubted the loyalty of its allies. Secondly, opponents of the United States often collected intelligence about it on the territory of European countries. The EU countries politicians were hardly so naive not to suppose that Americans used their systems to monitor the NATO partners. The Snowden case seems to be used by both the White House and its political opponents to solve not only political but also intelligence tasks.
The Snowden case hostage has become first of all Russian-American relationship. Moscow’s decision to grant political asylum to Edward Snowden was actually a gift to Washington. As far back as February, the White House put forward initiatives in the field of nuclear disarmament, the point of which was the following: further reductions in strategic nuclear forces (SNF) in exchange for a free hand in deploying an anti-ballistic missile system. Similar statements were made by President Obama in Berlin on 19 June 2013. However, the Russian side rejected both the February and the June White House’s initiatives. The Snowden case allowed Washington to successfully escape from the negotiation impasse On August 7, the President Barack Obama announced the partial reconsideration of the Russian-American relations, including the refusal to meet with Vladimir Putin at the summit of the Group of Twenty in St. Petersburg.
Moscow also was not happy with the format of the renewed negotiations. The Obama administration called for deeper reductions in strategic nuclear forces than it is provided by START-3. However, in the field of ABM, Washington was ready to agree only to signing of a non-binding declaration on cooperation – like the Helsinki Declaration of 1997. The Russian side, in its turn, was not ready to agree to a deep reduction in tactical nuclear weapons. After Barack Obama’s Berlin speech the strategic dialogue again, as in 2011, has come to a standstill. The decision to grant temporary asylum to Edward Snowden has allowed the Kremlin to interrupt the discussion around unfavorable for it Obama’s Berlin initiative.
A similar situation arose in the U.S. relations with the European Union countries. In response to Edward Snowden’s revelations, the leaders of France and Germany have put forward an initiative to sign a ‘pact’ about the rules for conducting undercover operations by intelligence services. Such a politically naive document is unlikely to be the real aim of Paris and Berlin. That’s not it. Under the pretext of discussions on the legality of ‘undercover operations’ France and Germany (perhaps with limited support of London) will seek to curtail the American infrastructure in Europe. This may reignite the discussions about the ‘European defense identity’ which have been locked since 2010. It is not by accident that Prime Minister of Russia Dmitry Medvedev took a stand in favor of the European Union on November 1: Moscow has traditionally supported the ‘Euroatlantists’ as supporters of the U.S. leadership limitation in Europe.
In this context, the Snowden case has become really potentially dangerous for the Obama Administration. It revealed two Washington’s largest foreign policy failures: the failure of a strategic dialogue with Russia and sharpening of tensions in relations with the European Union countries. For the George W. Bush, Jr. administration, similar problems in relations with Moscow and Brussels would have been common occurrence. But for Barack Obama, who had promised to solve exactly these problems, the Snowden case has discolored to unpleasant information. Washington thinks about how to turn the difficulty to its advantage.