America’s PR disaster over Snowden

The Obama regime and the West in general have scored an own goal and suffered massive setback to their images. Their self-appointed role as the sheriff of freedom and democracy is in tatters  after the revelations by Snowden.  Much of the Western mainstream media are trying to downplay the incidence and shift world attention into other matters, but the increasingly popular Russian news site, RT Today,  is still drumming the news on the Snowden saga. The Chinese media are also making noises too, with news and commentaries hitting out as US and UK. Following is one such articles:

By John Sexton,  June 26, 2013

They seek him here, they seek him there. Snowden the young whistleblower is making a fool of Obama.

Long before the digital age, British Prime Minister Harold Wilson remarked ruefully that a week is a long time in politics.

The fortnight since his summit with Xi Jinping must seem like a century for Barack Obama. Then he planned to deliver a lecture on Chinese hacking and freebooting of commercial secrets. Now his government stands accused of organizing the most comprehensive eavesdropping program in history. U.S. agents are frantically hunting whistleblower Edward Snowden, who is turning into a modern Scarlet Pimpernel. Rarely do we see the tables turn so rapidly.

American commentators dismiss Snowden as an attention-seeking naïf; members of Congress denounce him as a traitor. In private, officials are calling for him to suffer all sorts of unpleasant consequences. He has been charged with espionage – no doubt to intimidate other potential whistleblowers.

But the U.S. is losing the battle for public opinion. Snowden’s exposure of snooping on such a grand scale has dealt a massive blow to America’s credibility and prestige. Flat-footed attempts to apprehend him and empty threats to China and Russia have compounded the image problem.

The emperor has no clothes

Washington’s response to Snowden’s leaks is paradoxical. On the one hand officials would dearly love to lock him up and throw away the key. On the other hand they want us to believe that his revelations are innocuous old news and no big deal.

In fact, Snowden is like the little boy in the story who said out loud what everybody knew already but was too polite to point out.

It is absurd to suggest his leaks have compromised national security. Only the most naive terrorists send plans via email. Even if they telegraphed their intentions on Facebook like the Boston Marathon bombers they would be overlooked because for every bomb thrower there are a thousand fantasists.

Snowden’s real offense, the truly unforgiveable slight, like Bradley Manning’s, was to dent the image of the United States.

Trust us, we’re democrats

The U.S. and U.K. have a symbiotic relationship so it was no surprise that Snowden revealed close cooperation between the National Security Agency and GCHQ. The U.K. surveillance program – codenamed MTI (Mastering the Internet) – sounds even more ambitious than the NSA’s PRISM.

But according to British Foreign Secretary William Hague, “If you are a law abiding citizen of this country going about your business or your personal life you have nothing to fear.”

The trouble is we know that’s not true. A new book, “Undercover: the True Story of Britain’s Secret Police,” reveals how agents infiltrated peaceful activist groups, established relationships and fathered children before disappearing. Not even the Stasi stooped so low.

Politicians like to posture at international conferences to save the planet. But among their surveillance targets was Greenpeace – the organization that effectively put the environment on the political agenda.

The spooks went far beyond information gathering. They helped write a leaflet that provoked a ten-year libel suit by McDonalds. According to the leader of the U.K. Green Party, an agent firebombed a London department store. These are the classic actions of agents provocateurs.

Spying on allies, spying on poor countries

U.K. spies bugged the Blackberries and laptops of delegates to the 2009 G20 summit. They were very proud of a real-time display of who was phoning whom. While Prime Minister Gordon Brown was basking in the admiration of the world’s media he was receiving briefings from this squalid little spy operation.

In 2003, desperate to obtain a legal fig-leaf for the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. set out to bribe and intimidate small nations into voting for a UN resolution. To help the process along, the NSA bugged several UN delegates.

In a particularly shameful episode, Australia bugged the leaders of tiny East Timor during 2004 negotiations on natural gas revenues. For a country that prides itself on sportsmanship, this was certainly not cricket.

Intellectual property, intellectual dishonesty

The U.S. claims to see a difference between “legitimate” spying on state organizations and the trawling for commercial secrets supposedly carried out by the Chinese. Leaving aside that we might disagree on which is more harmful, are we sure the U.S. does not steal commercial secrets? It certainly did in the past.

For an entire historical epoch, the U.S. engaged in systematic industrial espionage and intellectual property theft. The initial target was the British textile technology that drove the Industrial Revolution. This was a policy endorsed at the very top. Its main plank was a patent law that gave no protection to foreigners – effectively legalizing the wholesale theft of inventions. Only when its economy had become the strongest in the world did America do an about-face and demand the enforcement of rules it had earlier flouted.

But it did not end there. Fast forward to the 1990s and the end of the Cold War; the Gulf War had demonstrated American military and political hegemony. In the new, unipolar world, some U.S. politicians began to question the cost of the CIA. So the spies began to tout themselves as purveyors of commercial secrets to U.S. business. Back then, the main target was Japan, which, despite being nominally a U.S. ally, was viewed with the same sort of hysteria as China is today.

Obama’s PR meltdown

It seems a very long time since Barack Obama was elected on a promise of change and received a premature Nobel Prize. With his drones, his snooping, his war on whistleblowers, Obama is well on the way to being as big a public relations disaster as George W Bush. The rehabilitation of America’s image, a task entrusted to its first black president with so much hope, has been put on hold.


About kchew

an occasional culturalist
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