The Edward Snowden disclosure of US secret data has given me an opportunity to discuss the arrogance of international diplomacy, or lack thereof; the news media’s complicity in propaganda, the ability to use power to control a country’s destiny and the stupidity that allows a person like Edward Snowden to become a cause célèbre.

On Arrogance

The arrogance shown by certain countries in the Snowden affair are vestiges of the colonialism mind-set that led them to genocide and the destruction of cultures throughout the history of mankind. It is the “power” that they wield today that allows them to ignore acceptable standards of international cooperation that was also wielded generations ago. It is very clear that none of these countries would have attempted to impede the US Air Force One, had it been it traversing through their airspace, rather than Evo Morales’ presidential aircraft.

Unlike the Bolivian presidential aircraft, the US Air Force One has many advantages that would not have allowed these countries to ignore decades of established international norms. This is because the United States wields the ability to project military authority over most parts of the world, with very few exceptions. Had flight authority been denied to the US Air Force One, multiple US interceptors would have been scrambled to escort the US president’s aircraft out of harm’s way. Also, the ability to refuel in flight would have allowed the US presidential aircraft the ability to reach US soil without the need to refuel along the way.

I use of US Air Force One to distinguish it from others, because the designation of Air Force One is not limited to the US presidential aircraft; as other countries so designate their own presidential aircraft. As a matter of fact, the Bolivian presidential aircraft was flying under the codename FAB-001 [Foxtrot-Alpha-Bravo 001] for Fuerza Aérea Boliviana (Bolivian Air Force) 001 when it was in transit through Europe from Russia.

The Bolivian presidential aircraft (FAB001) is a Dassault Falcon 900EX, delivered in 2010, that has a range of approximately 5,000 miles, depending on the number of passengers onboard and weather conditions. On July 3, 2013, the Bolivian aircraft with Bolivian President Evo Morales on board departed Russia on its return trip to Bolivia. According to media reports, the aircraft was denied entry into French and Portugal’s airspace. Originally the aircraft had been scheduled to refuel in Portugal. Portugal denied the aircraft’s refueling stop and after France declined to allow the aircraft through French airspace, Morales’ aircraft landed in Vienna where it remained for about 2 days. Eventually the aircraft and the president were able to return to Bolivia.

The Spanish government has confirmed that the Bolivian aircraft’s flight hindrance was in relation to the presumption that Snowden was onboard. Snowden was not onboard but had he been onboard he was not under an International warrant for arrest therefore impeding the Bolivian presidential aircraft’s flight was improper.

Regardless, had the same scenario arisen involving the US Air Force One, the US government would have escorted and refueled the aircraft back to US soil. Any attempt by any country to intercept the US aircraft would have likely met with force. Bolivia, on the other hand, does not have the ability to project military power in Europe and therefore its aircraft had to land in Vienna.

In other words, Bolivia did not have the “power” to guarantee its president’s return to Bolivia.

Now Bolivia is left with the only avenue available to it; rhetoric and propaganda via a willing accomplice, the media. Bolivia will raise the issue before international tribunals and many leaders will pontificate but in the end the fact is that Edward Snowden was not on board and therefore the original purpose was served, keeping Snowden away from a safe haven. Not only was the Bolivian aircraft inspected for Snowden’s presence but the world was put on notice that the US will do what it takes to put Snowden under arrest.

Bolivia’s inability to project military power is why France, Portugal and Spain were allowed to be used as willing accomplices to a political agenda. Bolivia’s lack of “power” today is the same lack of “power” that was the reason these same countries, among others, were able to arrogantly impose their will upon the indigenous populations of the Americas.

This same arrogance derived from power is what drives international political policy to this day, albeit this time the master is another country.

On Propaganda

Nowhere else is the ineptitude of the media more public then when it allows Snowden to proclaim himself as a “stateless” person. It is agreed that Snowden, or someone on his behalf, issued a statement that he was now “stateless” because the Obama Administration had revoked his US Passport. The fact that the statement was issued should be reported, as it was, but reporting that a statement was made and not clarifying that the statement is wrong is just as bad a reporting lies, or propaganda. The cancellation of Snowden’s passport does not cancel his US citizenship. All the cancellation did was to revoke Edward Snowden’s permission to travel outside of the United States by the government whose jurisdiction he is under by virtue of his citizenship.

A stateless person, according to international norm, is a person who has no citizenship because no country recognizes him. The United States recognizes Edward Snowden as a US citizen and even wants to return him for trial.

Snowden is not and cannot be considered a stateless person.

What the media should have done to accurately report the statement issued on behalf of Snowden was to state that a statement was issued stating that Snowden proclaimed himself to be “stateless” but the report should have immediately pointed out that Snowden is not a “stateless” individual, rather his ability to travel was severely hampered, which coincidently is the reason the passport was revoked.

Leaving the perception that Snowden was stateless is as bad as not reporting the news. News is about reporting facts, not propaganda statements. Although the media, for the most part, has corrected the perception, leading the news with “Snowden is Stateless” is bias, feeds a propaganda and is plain wrong.

Also, leading the news that Bolivia’s president was “kidnapped”, is another example of perpetuating propaganda as news. The Bolivian president was never “kidnapped” or “held hostage”. What happened is that several countries’ made it impossible for the Bolivian presidential aircraft to traverse the Atlantic Ocean back to Bolivian airspace.

By allowing these propaganda assertions to remain unchallenged in the public consciousness allows the propaganda perpetuators to manage the illusion serving their purposes.

That is not news, rather it is disseminating propaganda.

On Power

The power to effect change is the reason why Evo Morales’ travel back to Bolivia was impeded. Snowden’s assumed limbo in Russia is also an assertion of power by multiple parties. Although everyone agrees that there is a no-man’s land between the point of disembarkation and entry into a country the fact is that Russia has the “power” to detain, grant refuge or expel Edward Snowden by the mere fact that they have the closest armed unit to locate and detain Snowden. Likewise, the Obama Administration’s ability to impose economic consequences, because of his country’s economic prowess, by strong-arming nations to reject Snowdan is also the reason why Russia will not detain Snowden and why Bolivia will get nothing more than lip-service mea culpas by everyone involved.

The economic ability to impose its will upon other nations and to field a military capable of projecting power across the world is the reason why the Obama Administration can corner Edward Snowden in Russia’s self-declared no-man’s land. But power does not necessarily mean the ability to intelligently do things properly.

On Stupidity

In the rush to sell “news”, the media has focused on Snowden’s whereabouts and what new tantalizing secret he is about to release. But none have bothered to look at the stupidity that created the situation to begin with.

The very first question that should have been asked is what is wrong with a company who hires someone without even a high school degree and gives him unbridled access to sensitive information? And, what is wrong with a national security apparatus that depends on a company that hires unqualified employees, to secure secrets? Various media reports have stated that Snowden has a GED, instead of a high school degree while others have stated that he did not complete the course work necessary to attain the GED. There is also considerable discrepancy on what, if any courses, Snowden took towards a higher-education degree.

What kind of business practices does Booz Allen Hamilton practice that they allow an individual, such as Edward Snowden, access to sensitive information that is now the cause of international intrigue? This is not the first time Booz Allen Hamilton has made headlines for failures in basic computer security. In July 2011, the hacker group Anonymous accessed Booz Allen Hamilton’s computer network through “un-salted” passwords. Any half-decent computer programmer would know that storing “un-salted” passwords is the easiest way for hackers to circumvent a password controlled system. A halfway competent programmer that allows unsalted passwords to be used is as incompetent as a computer user securing his bank account information using “password” as his password. A private small company can be excused by such an oversight but a $5 billion company who derives at least 99% of its revenues from government contract work providing technology services does not have that excuse.

It boggles the mind that Edward Snowden, with less than 3 months tenure at Booz Allen Hamilton and apparent lack of educational qualifications, can get access to National Security Agency (NSA) classified data and leak it to the news media.

Even more amazing is that no one seems to be asking why Booz Allen Hamilton is still in business.

The news media industry, for its part, has devolved from serving a public interest to serving the voyeuristic needs of the population in general. In the lust for the most sensational headline the outcome is not informing but rather giving the propagandists the vehicle they need. It is for this reason that we have numerous populations that really have no clear understanding of what is the truth and what is the lie. This is why propaganda drives the national public policy agenda on such issues as health-care, marriage equality, immigration and all other manners of national and international affairs that never seem to get resolved. The media’s failure to inform is the driving force for the failures of society.

Martin Paredes

Martín Paredes is a Mexican immigrant who built his business on the U.S.-Mexican border. As an immigrant, Martín brings the perspective of someone who sees México as a native through the experience...

2 replies on “The Snowden Affair: Arrogance, Propaganda, Power and Stupidity”

  1. You fixate on the educational requirements aspect a bit too much… The primary issues that any contractor is concerned with is the presence of a security clearance; is it active or is it inactive? Does the applicant even have/had a security clearance? Next comes the ability to perform the duties outlined in the position description. His position is more of a technical nature and, lets face it, for the most part the presence of a college diploma is not necessarily a guarantee. A diploma means that you, more than likely, have relatively large college debts to pay down. A person that has the technical certifications probably does not have the college debts, but may have some trade school debts at a far lower level that the average college graduate.

  2. The first question should have been “Why are they collecting this data?” followed by “Should we allow governments to do this?”. The leaks themselves and their implications should be the real issues and no one seems to be addressing that aspect of this ordeal.
    Furthermore your obsession with education credentials seems a bit technocratic. Academia trains good bureaucrats, not necessarily good thinkers, which might be your point?

    On a final note, I admire your work on local issues, you fill an important gap in our local media.

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