Zakaria: Snowden situation unique
June 26th, 2013
10:56 AM ET

Zakaria: Snowden situation unique

Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden is a "free man" biding his time in a Moscow airport, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday. But should Barack Obama have taken the opportunity during a key speech the same day to ask Russia to send Snowden back to the United States? Fareed offers his take on the Situation Room.

If the president would have, for example, opened up his speech over at Georgetown University and said, I'm going to talk about climate change in a moment, but first, I just want to [offer] a direct appeal to Russia to send Snowden back to the United States, it obviously would escalate this situation, because the president has a lot more at stake then.

I think the danger is that if the president makes a public appeal like that and it doesn't work, you really do look bad. You lose credibility.

So I think the White House is probably calculating exactly how much pressure they can put. They started out very tough with the Russians, thinking that they might even kind of push them into doing something. And it became very clear the Russians weren't willing to do that. So they're now playing nicer. They're saying, look, can't you help us?

The U.S. has extradited a number of people. But this is a unique situation. This is a situation in which the person that we're talking about has revealed that the United States is engaging in massive surveillance programs of many, many foreign countries and governments. So from the point of view of those foreign countries and governments, it is, of course, a very complicated issue. I bet you that if you were to poll public opinion in Russia or China, they would support what their governments are doing right now.

Can the president sweeten the pot, if you will – give the Russians something that they've wanted from the United States for a long time and try to make a deal along those lines?

You know, part of what's happened here is that the asymmetry of power has become so great. During the Cold War, we spied a lot on them, they spied a lot on us. They would catch one of ours, we'd exchange them.

We have developed, ever since the end of the Cold War and after 9/11, this massive surveillance capacity that dwarfs anything any of these guys have. And so it's not clear what they have that, you know, what could we give them? We tower over them and they resent it. The Chinese resent it. The Russians resent it. So they look upon this as such wonderful P.R. that I don't know what we could give them in return.

I think there are things in a more general sense. The Russians want the relaxation of Jackson-Vanik, which is about grain exports from Russia, which a Cold War relic. There are probably other trade-related issues. But that would be a kind of an unusual tie. Typically in espionage, you've done a like for like, an apples for apples swap, except that we now do stuff that nobody else does, so I don't quite know what we could offer them.

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Topics: Russia • United States

soundoff (135 Responses)
  1. Frank

    Would some kind CNN staffer leak the straight dope on what CNNers have been instructed to do with regards to the NSA scandal? It's pretty obvious to all of us that it's "Snowden Snowden Snowden Leak Snowden Leak Snowden" with every story, and that CNN isn't going anywhere near the NSA's 4th amendment violations or James Clapper's perjury under oath. Come on, you can tell us... 🙂

    June 30, 2013 at 7:54 pm |
  2. mrNorway

    USA is such a bad country, espionage against your allies like south korea.
    What kind of terrorism did USA expect to find by doing that?

    June 30, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
  3. Fubarack

    Bin Failing already gave up the leverage we used to have, so no, we got nothing except a pile of debt, and that will not interest Putin.

    June 30, 2013 at 11:49 pm |
  4. Joe

    Snowden may or may not be a hero or a traitor (as Robert Frost wrote in his poem, "The Black Cottage") "most of the change we think we see in life is due to truths being in and out of favor." Our "govern"ment has become so anti-American citizen, that We the People do not trust anything our "leaders" say or do. It is laughable when the head of this alphabet soup spy agency or that one says we are safer because they are spying on us! The Patriot Act – really? Is anyone in the United States paying attention to these blowhards? The IRS, the Justice Department, Homeland Security et al – just one big bunch of liers. So it is no wonder that most Americans think Snowden did all of us a big favor. And now the rest of the world also sees just what a pathetic hypocrite the US is. Obama is impotent as a leader and Putin and the rest of the world leaders know they can do what they want when they want and BO won't do nada. Serves us right for electing the Clown Prince a second time.

    July 1, 2013 at 12:04 am |
  5. robertfallin

    Putin must enjoy the irony; people used to flee Russia to get the the United States. Tell you what, Obo, call off your killer drones and your Department of "Fatherland" security and people might actually want to live in the "land of the free and home of the brave" again.

    July 1, 2013 at 12:42 am |
  6. Attila the Hun

    "... we now do stuff that nobody else does, so I don't quite know what we could offer them"... nice for self-indulging arrogance, when the reality is more like this: " we got nothing..."

    July 1, 2013 at 1:01 am |
  7. Ben

    If Russia let him go He will end up in Cuba..

    July 1, 2013 at 8:23 am |
    • Hank

      Are you certain that he would be safe in Cuba? From what I can see, as long as Snowden is over seas, especially in a place like Cuba or some other Latino country, he's drone bait. If he would just come home after handing everything over to the British media, he could arrive here with some assurance of being safe. In fact, I strongly suspect that coming home is his only safe choice. Our clandestine agencies dare not act against him in public because they do not want to risk being identified nor do they want anything untoward to happen to Mister Snowden. If they bring charges against him in an open court, he will then have all the advantages. They would have to reveal their secrets in order to get a conviction on him.

      July 3, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
  8. Fanxico Tran

    If i were President Obama I would announce that any country gave the American traitor Snowden asylum, would be considered a debt nation to the US. The US would collect it someday.

    July 2, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
  9. Hank

    George W. Bush ruined any prospect of us being able to work with the ever pragmatic Vlad the Pootin. Someone will have to go well out of their way to smooth his feathers and fur before he will work with us. His spy agencies did try to warn us about the two blokes who bombed the Boston Marathon, but we ignored it didn't we? How do you suppose that makes ol' Vlad and those who work for him feel? He is insulted. Vlad is a worker in Realpolitik, not starry-eyed Idealism. He can be approached and he can be dealt with, but he will drive hard bargains because he believes that we can afford them.

    July 3, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
  10. OnTheRoad

    At this point in time the U.S. of A. does not really have anything to offer any other country other than our tax dollars! Other countries look at the US and see and country that is being ran down hill by our politicians (from local dog catcher to the President)!!!! Until the people are back in charge and are relatively happy with our country then no other country will be happy with us either!

    July 5, 2013 at 11:45 am |
  11. Luke Douglas

    While the news media has been falling all over itself to cover Snowden and every step he has taken, the real story has been missed and that is that the United States is spying on citizens with data-mining by the top internet related companies. If you think the 'Cloud' is safe, I have a bridge in San Francisco that I'd be glad to sell you. Do you really trust our government accessing our private communications?'s just meta locations.....just looking for patterns. If you truly believe that, then you are already lost. I've been involved with the computer industry for almost 40 years and been on the internet even before it was called the internet which was ARPANET ( was started by the Department of Defense). If they can access meta data, they can access anything that you have ever put on the internet and, I firmly believe, they are doing it. Not on everyone but on a significant number of people.

    So I do a search for Abu Musaab Al-Suri as I've heard his name mentioned on CNN or Fox News to find out a bit more about the guy and I come across his website, So some CIA, NIA, FBI or whatever 'secret' organization that our government has checking into our personal affairs and they get a hit that a person in a small southern town has accessed a key Al-Qaeda leaders website. Well, we better check this guy out so now they check all communications I have had on the internet including personal emails and phone texts as well as recorded phone calls. Hell, they may park a van near my house and do some heat-sensing monitoring to see what I'm doing in my house. Am I paranoid? You tell me!

    The problem with power is that power corrupts. I have no power so I'm not corrupt but curiosity could make me an 'enemy of the state'. I don't like that one bit. I served this country in the Marines. My father and uncles served during WWII and Korea. I have ancestry on both sides of my parents that have fought in every war that the United States fought in including both sides of the Civil War. I'm a patriot! I love my country. I just don't trust our government nor our leaders.

    God help us.

    July 29, 2013 at 1:23 am |
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