Intelligence Matters: Not good at chess—the U.S. pursuit of Snowden pushes him inevitably into KGB’s arms (Update — July 12, 2013)

July 12, 2013

Edward Snowden will seek at least temporary asylum in Russia, confirming the prediction in the article below that by shutting off his asylum routes, the U.S. was pushing him inevitably into the KGB’s arms.


Will Englund, “Snowden says he will seek asylum in Russia, The Washington Post, July 12, 2013 (Updated 9:41 AM).

Ellen Barry and Andrew Roth, “Snowden Is Said to Renew Plea for Asylum in Russia,” New York Times, July 12, 2013.

The United States may have reached the conclusion that the damage Snowden is inflicting and could inflict in the future, by publishing details of its secret intelligence programs, outweighs the damage that might be done to U.S. interests by his eventually collaborating with Putin and Russia’s intelligence agencies.

However, it is far from clear, and even dubious, that the ongoing release of further information about such U.S. operations will cease once Snowden is in Putin’s absolute control (if he isn’t already). Such a conclusion would greatly underestimate the possibility that Snowden has distributed this information to a number of other persons and organizations, and that should he decide to turn the encryption key, or simply fail to deactivate an automatic mechanism, much more damning information could be released.

The Russians, for their part, need not be in any hurry. They have time to wait, until Snowden reaches that psychological point where he is grateful for their protecting him and becomes ready to collaborate.

In the meantime, further revelations are likely, even if Snowden complies with Putin’s condition that he stop harming U.S. interests. The revelations probably do not depend on him anymore.

At this point in the chess match, one would have to surmise that Putin is greatly enjoying the game, while the United States seems to be far behind.

The Trenchant Observer


“Intelligence Matters: Not good at chess—the U.S. pursuit of Snowden pushes him inevitably into KGB’s arms”

Article originally published June 30, 2013

Food for Thought

The longer Edward Snowden is holed up in the transit area of the airport in Moscow, while the U.S. exerts pressure on Ecuador and other potential asylum refuges, the more desperate his personal situation becomes. The Russians, led by Vladimir Putin, an old KGB man, is playing a smart game from their point of view which, when it turns out there is nowhere else Snowden can go, will deliver him and all he knows into the hands of the Russian KGB (whatever its new name may be).

Like Wikileaks, the Snowden affair points to one of the greatest intelligence failures in U.S. history.

Obama, by blindly driving to get America’s hands on a whistleblower who is viewed by the administration as a traitor, has unwittingly magnified the intelligence damage Snowden will ultimately cause in the future. By closing off his asylum routes, the U.S. will have guaranteed the result that the KGB will have him, with complete control over his personal circumstances, and access to everything he knows.

Looking at the Snowden affair through this optic, it may be that much better chess moves by the United States could have been to allow him to secure exile and asylum in Iceland or Ecuador. At least in one of these countries, he would have been less likely to fall into the hands of the KGB.

Whether either of these options is still available is unknown.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.