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Invisible in Moscow, Snowden Has a Big Global Impact

  • James Brooke

In this image released by WikiLeaks Oct. 11, 2013, former National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden speaks during a presentation ceremony in Russia.

In this image released by WikiLeaks Oct. 11, 2013, former National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden speaks during a presentation ceremony in Russia.

Edward Snowden, Moscow’s most famous American, will shortly mark six months in Russia. So far, he has had no face to face meetings with journalists and no meetings with the general public.

His three meetings with outsiders have been carefully staged events with sympathetic visitors. Two blurry photos have been released that appear to show the fugitive American intelligence leaker outside a supermarket and on a Moscow bridge.

His lawyer Anatoly Kucherena says Snowden started a job on Nov. 1, but he will not say where. Kucherena is a member of the oversight board of the FSB, Russia’s primary domestic intelligence agency.

Andrei Soldatov, an expert on Russia’s intelligence agencies, believes the FSB discreetly, but firmly controls Snowden’s new life in Russia.

“The problem is that if you are surrounded only by people from FSB, people like Kucherena, you become dependent on the information they provide to you,” said Soldatov, co-author with Irina Borogan of The New Nobility, a history of the new Russian security services.

Snowden won asylum here in August on the condition that he not disrupt relations between Moscow and Washington. Snowden is not giving press conferences in Moscow. He claims that he gave all his stolen computer files to sympathetic journalists before flying here on June 23.

Smart game

But Soldatov notes that the steady stream of spy stories furthers the foreign policy goals of the Kremlin.

“It’s a very smart game,” he said.

The revelations of U.S. spying have driven a wedge between Washington and Europe, where French and Germans are angered by extensive American spying programs. Other spying revelations have roiled relations with Mexico and Brazil, the two powerhouses of Latin America.

Carnegie Moscow Center Director Dmitri Trenin says world leaders are either naïve about the degree of spying that goes on, or are putting on a show of protest. In the 1980s, Trenin worked with Soviet military forces in East Germany, keeping a close eye on his American counterparts.

“Frankly, in this world, you spy on your adversaries, but you also collect intelligence on your allies,” Trenin said. “This is one is one of the oldest rules in the game. The United States has been in Germany since 1945, and since 1945 the U.S. government has wanted to know exactly what the German government is thinking.”

Trenin and others say that people have forgotten - or were unaware - of the extent of intelligence gathering.

“I would be very, very angry with the Russian government if the Russian government did not collect information on all countries that have relevance to Russia,” he said, referring to Russia’s military and trade allies.

'Sovereign control'

Soldatov fears that Snowden’s transparency crusade will backfire.

He says the revelations have strengthened the hands of authoritarian countries, like Russia and China. They seek to end the free flow of information on the worldwide web, and to build walls of “sovereign control.”

Speaking of Snowden and his journalist partners," Soldatov said. “They really believe that everyone should fight this greater evil, because American services, they have this global reach, they have access to the services, and to the service of companies that everybody, almost everybody on the planet tries to use - global services like email, Facebook and Twitter.”

Indeed, Snowden’s host country, Russia, is moving rapidly in the opposite direction, in the direction of greater government surveillance. This month, Russia is preparing a law that would give the FSB automatic access to the content of all Russian emails, instant messages, and telephone calls.

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