New NSA Blueprints Raise the Stakes On Snowden and Asylum in Russia


The saga of Edward Snowden has taken another twist with NSA "blueprints" that could reveal NSA surveillance procedures. While it's largely understood that Snowden has had documents, the claim of blueprints from journalist Glenn Greenwald escalates the stakes of Snowden's global escape, especially in Russia where a standoff of asylum and deportation is now the most important moment for the future of the entire story. There are two key factors now. One, Edward Snowden is recklessly cornering himself. Two, Russia now has a larger bargaining chip with the U.S., and a bigger choice to make.

While Greenwald has been writing stories in both the U.S. and Rio de Janeiro about NSA programs with respect to specific documents, the intricacies are largely unknown; on a larger scale virtually nothing is unknown. The concern throughout the story has been the ethical dilemma and knowledge of the NSA PRISM program in general. Reports of communication companies giving up phone and email records have surfaced, but the full extent of the larger operations are murky. Greenwald stated that the blueprint "would allow somebody who read them to know exactly how the NSA does what it does, which would in turn allow them to evade that surveillance or replicate it."           

This puts Snowden in a trickier spot. It doesn't change his fleeing-and-wanted narrative, but it does increase the pressure upon him and what he knows. Maybe it's Snowden being defensive. There may even be a dead man's pact in place that would disperse the information if physically harmed. It's very defensive in nature.

The problem is that Snowden's high value makes him more of a commodity, one that could easily be traded. This is where Russia comes in. Snowden has been stuck in a Moscow airport for a while now, waiting to gain asylum. After many countries denied his requests, or settled for the impossibility of asylum due to restrictions against his U.S. passport, Snowden finally has a safe haven in the form of Venezuela. His mobility is up to Russia, and it's a win-win for them.

The U.S. has continually urged for Snowden to be returned, but Russia has options to weigh. Officially, there is a request from the Russian government for Snowden to cease all leaks of information if he wants to leave Russian territory via temporary asylum. If this deal goes through, Snowden will probably end his story in Venezuela and the Russian image in the U.S. won't improve. Considering the imprisonment of punk group Pussy Riot and Putin in general, this may not be a concern. Plus, the U.S. has a problem abroad concerning surveillance in European countries. On the other hand, Russia could receive one big I.O.U. from the U.S. as well.

Snowden's increasingly defensive nature doesn't guarantee the reveal of the blueprints. He might even end up being a stalemate version of Julian Assange, who supposedly has more information himself. In this case though, Russia has a large part to play due to Snowden's reckless corner. The full extent of options remains unknown, but it will certainly see some change in U.S.-Russian relations to come.