In the Cold War days, Soviet spies in the United States faced tough tasks – identifying high value targets, and then persuading them to hand over America’s secrets.
Today’s Kremlin has entered the modern age: Advertise!
Russia’s English-language international media is giving glowing coverage to four U.S. government whistleblowers who came to Moscow to give an award to Edward Snowden, the fugitive leaker from the National Security Agency.
RIA Novosti posted the above handout photo from Sunshine Press, the WikiLeaks media arm. The caption helpfully identified the former employer of each visiting American: CIA, FBI, NSA and Department of Justice.
Russia Today, the Kremlin channel that speaks English, lavished a 15-minute segment on “The Fabulous Four.”
Why not just string a banner between two Kremlin towers, reading in English: “American Secrets Welcome Here!”
The appeal to American government workers to break their confidentiality oaths is, of course, dressed up in the Kremlin’s new concern that the United States should become more transparent, democratic and accountable.
Lost in fuzzy think is the point that this passion for transparency, democracy, and accountability stops at Russia’s 98,061 kilometer border. If the American visitors stick around Moscow long enough, they will start hearing Russian parliamentarians sneering at Washington for “exporting democracy.”
Smart people planned the Snowden award dinner well in advance, aimed at the mid-October international award season.
As any Russia state TV viewer knows, Moscow’s most famous American resident had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Snowden was also a finalist for the EU’s Sakharov Prize for human rights.
But outside of state TV land, the realpolitik men at the Kremlin seemed to suspect that Snowden was not going to get either award. Their political instincts were correct. On Oct. 10, Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who took a Taliban bullet for girls’ education, won the Sakharov Prize. And on Oct. 11, the Nobel Peace Prize went to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Stealing a march on these minor awards, Snowden received the Sam Adams award in Moscow on the night of Oct. 9.
Despite the whistleblowers’ declared attachment for transparency, we do not know where their dinner was, or who paid for the American attendees’ air tickets, visas and hotel rooms. Judging by the portrait of Catherine the Great in the background, and the sound of one person clapping in an otherwise empty hall, it appears that the award dinner was in a state-owned hotel.
Three of the four visiting Americans are past recipients of the Sam Adams award, which is named after a former CIA analyst who charged that enemy troop strength estimates were politically manipulated during the Vietnam War. While it honors Snowden as a whistleblower, U.S. officials counter that whistleblowers reveal information only after trying to go through official channels. They say Snowden does not qualify for whistleblower protections because he made no such effort before leaking secrets.
Anyhow, the photos — tightly cropped for the small gathering — show a jolly group. Snowden looked sharp in a well-fitting dark suit. His traveling companion, Sarah Harrison, looked svelte in black silk.
Harrison may have elbowed aside Anna Chapman, the voluptuous red-haired Russian “sleeper agent” deported from the United States in 2010. Last June, she tweeted a marriage proposal to Snowden shortly after he arrived here. More recently, when a NBC reporter gingerly asked her about that tweet, she stomped out of the interview, saying that she did not want to talk about her personal life.
But that could – just maybe – have been an act. After she tweeted about Snowden, search hits soared again to her 2010 black lingerie photo spread in Russia’s Maxim magazine. The Kremlin’s subtle signal to lonely American male government workers: “Hey, Mr. Cubicle, come on over to Moscow with your US Gov. laptop. You are going to be batting way out of your league on Friday nights!”
So far, it has been impossible to get Snowden’s side of the story.
Although an advocate of transparency, Snowden has given no interviews since arriving in Moscow here four months ago. His two ‘public’ meetings have been carefully staged events – with handpicked NGOs and now with three fellow winners of his new award.
The visiting Americans later gushed about Snowden on RT, the English channel.
Jesselyn Radack, a former Department of Justice adviser, said Snowden “looked great. He seemed very centered and brilliant, smart, funny, very engaged.”
Ray McGovern, a former CIA agent, called Snowden “an extraordinary person” who “has made his peace with what he did, is convinced that what he did was right.”
Coleen Rowley, a former FBI agent, praised Snowden as “very centered.”
Thomas Drake, a former NSA executive who had voiced concerns about privacy violations by the agency, said: “Russia, to its credit, recognized international law and granted him asylum.”
Then the Russian press latched on to Lon Snowden, the father of Edward, who arrived in Moscow the day after the award ceremony. Lon Snowden has received a multiple entry visa for Russia. He made a point of thanking Russian President Vladimir Putin for giving his son asylum.
Lon Snowden was escorted around Moscow by his son’s lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, a man who is close to the Kremlin.
During an interview with Rossiya 24 television, Kucherena signaled that the Kremlin expects a payoff for its charm campaign.
“I am absolutely convinced that there will be more people like Edward,” Kucherena said in Russian. “And it will happen in the near future because young people who are raised in the democratic United States, no doubt cannot and will not put up with the lies that are being told by its leaders.”
Rossiya 24 did not mention that Kucherena serves on the oversight board for the FSB, the successor intelligence agency to the KGB.
(Main photo: Human Rights Watch)