POLITICS – Full Lowdown: US Whistleblower Edward Snowden Seeks Refuge in Free Speech HK 5

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Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald’s source for the American NSA (National Security Agency) whistle blower story, has been taking refuge in Hong Kong. Snowden chose HK as “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent”. In an interview with The Guardian columnist below, he stated that…

“Hong Kong has a strong tradition of free speech. People think ‘China; great firewall’. Mainland China does have significant restrictions on free speech but the people of Hong Kong have a long tradition of protesting in the streets, making their views known, their internet is not filtered here. No more so than any other western government. And I believe that the Hong Kong government is actually independent in relation to a lot of other western governments.”

Snowden accepted that US security services have a presence here and that he could be extradited, rendered or even kidnapped by triads…

Full lowdown:

Snowden provided proof of wide scale US government efforts to spy on millions of regular citizens via the servers of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Paltalk, YouTube, AOL, Skype and Apple. He had worked for the NSA since 2009 and could have sold information to foreign governments, profited from it or leaked hoards of information online. Instead, he approached The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald several months ago, who helped him to reveal only information that was in the public interest and unlikely to cause harm. Several revelations then followed (with more promised in the coming days)….

Possibly suspecting that he’d been identified and wishing to protect himself, Greenwald’s source, Edward Snowden went public on Monday. It was revealed that the 29-year-old was working at an NSA facility in Hawaii before claiming sick leave for several weeks and travelling to Hong Kong on May 20th. Snowden left his girlfriend, family, a US$200,000pa job and sacrificed his own freedom to raise awareness of the extent of US surveillance in a scandal described as ‘more important than the Pentagon Papers’.

Before going public, he had left his luxury Mira hotel room in Tsim Sha Tsui only three times in as many weeks. After checking out, his location is unknown. The BBC have stated he is ‘missing‘, whilst Glenn Greenwald stated last night that he knew where Snowden was, but would not reveal his location…

HK extradition laws:

Hong Kong has an extradition treaty with the US, but both sides may reserve the right not to hand over fugitives in the case of political offences. Beijing oversaw this right of veto prior to the 1997 handover and Snowden’s fate may therefore lie in the hands of the mainland government who are responsible for HK’s foreign affairs.

The city has a poor record for granting asylum and last year cooperated with the US and UK to force a Libyan dissident onto a plane. The mainland, however, may wish to use him as a political bargaining chip, or might support him as a diplomatic stunt to contrast American criticism of how China treats its own political dissidents. Analysts are weighing up whether China has an appetite for such a fight.

Josh Marshall of TPM agrees it is down to Beijing:“If they don’t want a fight over this, Snowden’s toast. If they like the optics of it, I don’t think it matters what that extradition treaty says. China’s a big enough player and the US has enough other fish to fry with the Chinese, that the US is not going to put the bilateral relationship on the line over this guy.”

Guardian diplomatic writer, Julian Borger, stated that his calculations over Hong Kong “likely rest on its relatively liberal culture and sovereignty of Beijing”. His decision to flee American jurisdiction was perhaps wise. Washington-based foreign affairs analyst Steve Clemons said he overheard four men discussing an intelligence conference they had just attended. Speaking about the leaks, one of them said that both the reporter and leaker should be “disappeared“.

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In 2008, candidate Obama said he would “strengthen whistle blower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud and abuse.” However, he did the exact opposite and has prosecuted more whistle blowers under the Espionage Act than all previous presidents combined. (Read more about the the PRISM surveillance programme at Wikipedia and the Guardian.)