Snowden: towards an endgame

By Pepe Escobar (Asia Times – Roving Eye)

The working title of the Edward Snowden movie is still The Spy Who Remains in the Cold. Here’s where we stand:

  • Snowden could only fly out of Hong Kong because China allowed it.
  • Snowden could only arrive in Moscow because Russia knew it – in co-operation with China. This is part of their strategic relationship, which includes the BRICS group (along with Brazil, India and South Africa) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. No official source though would ever confirm it.
  • With the Latin American offers of asylum (Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua; even Uruguay would consider it), we’re approaching the clincher: Moscow is now calculating whether – and how – to help Snowden reach his final destination while extracting maximum political capital out of Washington.

Into this script comes roaring the coup-that-is-not-a-coup sub-plot in Egypt. Cynics’ eyebrows will be raised that just as the Barack Obama administration was going mental over the National Security Agency (NSA) spy scandal a revo-coup-o-lution explodes in Egypt. New revelations about the extent of the NSA-centric Orwellian Panopticon keep on coming, but they have been totally downgraded by US corporate media; it’s all Egypt all the time. After all, the Pentagon – to which the NSA is attached – owns the Egyptian military, something that even the New York Times had to acknowledge. [1]

Yet they don’t own Snowden. This has nothing to do with “terra”.

Meanwhile, the US intelligence gambit of intercepting a non-adversarial presidential plane spectacularly backfired in true Mad magazine Spy vs Spy fashion. Obama had said he would not “scramble fighter jets” to catch Snowden; of course not, just ground them.

Austrian paper Die Presse revealed that the US Ambassador in Austria, William Eacho, was responsible for spreading the (false) information about Snowden being on board Bolivia President Evo Morales’ Falcon out of Russia – leading to the denial of overflying rights in France, Spain, Portugal an Italy. [2] Eacho – a former CEO of a food distribution company with no diplomatic experience whatsoever – was appointed by Obama to go to Vienna in June 2009. Why? Because he was a top Obama fundraiser.

Eacho did little to disprove those who sustain that the NSA really needs to “analyze” every phone call, email and tweet on the planet – otherwise they could never obtain such pearls of intelligence as pinpointing Snowden on Evo’s plane. As for the astonishing incompetence of accumulated European intelligence agencies, that was already a given. Yet they were certainly very competent to logistically support countless extraordinary rendition CIA flights during the Bush years. No flight – much less a presidential one – was “grounded” then.

Snowden’s leaks – from PRISM to TEMPORA – have established how the NSA’s sweeping up of petabytes of data from just about anyone anywhere is now the norm. The Obama administration insists this is essential for its new branding of the Global War on Terror (GWOT), which Tom Engelhardt memorably described as actually being the Global War on You (GWOY). [3]

I have argued that the NSA cyber shadow war has nothing to do with “terra” – but with building a worldwide map of targets in future cyber-war scenarios, where a country can and will be easily wiped off the face of the (digital) map.

Everyone now knows the NSA is embedded with the Echelon program. [4] The US and the UK solidified their secret spying around Echelon. What Snowden detailed is that the UK also “intercepts” fiber optic cables. And that Germany is also in bed with the NSA. [5] And that Brazil is also being spied on to death – in fact, in the “Boundless Informant” map, Brazil is as much a target as Russia, although both pale in comparison to prime target China.

Reactions have had the merit of graphically portraying how each nation stands in relation to the US Leviathan/Orwellian digital Panopticon. Western Europe is a poodle wasteland – including supposed rottweilers such as the UK and Sweden. Latin America displays increasing internal solidarity (apart from client states such as Colombia and Chile). No wonder the Wall Street Journal is baring its teeth for the return of military dictatorships in Latin America; wait, they’ve got one, but in Egypt.

Back in the real world…
While Washington spies, security officials of the BRICS nations, gathered in Vladivostok this month, have agreed to expand their cooperation in cyber-security; after all they now perceive the US as the biggest common threat. They are already collaborating on laying out the US$1.5 billion fiber-optic BRICS cable, which will link the five of them with 21 African countries, with service starting in 2015.

While Washington spies, the BRIC nations do deals. Russia and China are boosting their trade. China is getting most of the oil exported by Iraq and is solidifying its strategic energy partnership with Iran. Deeper into Pipelineistan, in Afghanistan the US might as well forget about the TAPI pipeline – from Turkmenistan to India via Afghanistan and Pakistan – (unless the Taliban receive a hefty cut).

On the other hand, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, before a visit to China, announced, “the economic corridor taking off from Kashgar [in China’s Xinjiang] to Gwadar [in southwest Pakistan] is a game changer”.

And that’s quite an understatement; this economic corridor, parallel to the Karakoram highway, will boast a series of special economic zones, fiber-optic cables, a rail link and – what else – a pipeline; this proves that the Iran-Pakistan (IP) pipeline, fought tooth and nail by both the Bush and Obama administrations, will have an extension to China, will become the IPC, and will offer yet another Chinese access to the Indian Ocean; take that, “pivoting” to Asia.

The by now famous tweet by Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the foreign affairs committee at the Duma, and very close to President Vladimir Putin, about Venezuela’s offer of asylum being Snowden’s “last chance”, has been misinterpreted. Rather than a measure of Russia’s exasperation, it should be seen as a measure of trepidation. Caracas did receive an extradition request from Washington. Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro said it has already been rejected. Caracas also received an asylum request from Snowden. [6]

Maduro was clear; Snowden “will need to decide when he will fly here”. If the movie does become Our Man in Caracas, it’s up to Moscow to make it happen. Snowden can’t fly through Havana, overflying European and very close to US airspace. Obama may “scramble jets” after all.

Putin’s previous statement of offering asylum to Snowden as long as he stopped leaking was clearly designed to appease an enraged Obama administration. But is he prepared to authorize the smuggling of Snowden to South America in a Russian strategic bomber (or, better yet, a nuclear submarine)? And still there’s no guarantee Our Man in Caracas would not be whacked, sooner or later, by a CIA contractor. The ball is now in Russia’s court.


  1. Military Reasserts Its Allegiance to Its Privileges, The New York Times, July 3, 2013.
  2. God bless the ‘United Stasi of America’, RT, July 4, 2013.
  3. The Dictionary of the Global War on You (GWOY), TomDispatch, July 2, 2013.
  4. See here.
  5. Snowden Interview: NSA and the Germans ‘In Bed Together’, Spiegel Online International, July 7, 2013.
  6. Venezuela confirms receipt of Snowden asylum request, RT, July 8, 2013.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. He has also written Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at

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