The Best Defense

Why I don't think Snowden is, or will become, a Chinese intelligence asset

By Stuart Herrington

Best Defense guest columnist

Unless he was an asset of the Chinese or some other foreign intelligence service prior to "coming out" as he did, I don't think it's likely any foreign intel service is going to latch onto Edward Snowden.

If he were already a recruited asset, one would think that his case officers would have given him a better exfil plan than "fly to Hong Kong and hold a press interview." In fact, were he already on some service's payroll, the counsel would have been "stay right where you are, you can do us the most good in your current Booz Allen position." He is a "property," but don't think it likely that he would be picked up in such a short time by any country's service, China included.

To use jargon, Snowden is "blown" -- that is, he is a hot potato, with many downsides politically and from almost any perspective. My guess is that he realized after his flight to HK and going public that this was not a very swift move, and that he was in danger of being picked up by the authorities, acting on behalf of the local U.S. mission there (or, in his paranoid mind's eye, snatched and rendered by the hated CIA) -- and he was relentlessly besieged by media -- so he disappeared himself for the moment, which won't last in Hong Kong, a very well-organized society with a super security force. In short, any service that might like to contact him for a debriefing or other relationship would right now be appealing to its highers (the very top) with arguments as to just why they would wish to touch this guy at this time.

Based on what we know now, which could change in a flash, I would vote that no service, Chinese or otherwise, will touch this fellow; and, if they do, it would be a quiet interview, just to sniff out what, if anything, he might have that would merit undertaking political risks to touch him.

Stuart Herrington is a former commander of the U.S. Army Foreign Intelligence Command, INSCOM. He also is the author of several books about intelligence, including Traitors Among Us: Inside the Spy Catcher's World.   


The Best Defense

Do we have a neo-imperial Washington versus an anti-imperial American public?

So supposes Andrew Sullivan, the blogfather, who writes that, "We have a neo-imperial apparatus in Washington and an anti-imperial public. At some point, one of those will have to give."

Is he correct?

I asked my favorite neo-imperialist, Tom Donnelly of AEI, what he thought. This is what he wrote back:

If we could just set aside the whole "imperial" construct, which excites without informing....

1. The climate in Washington seems to me profoundly different than in past, which I would say is a generational matter. The center of political opinion is an amalgam of Barack Obama and Ted Cruz, who share little except a belief that foreign policy doesn't matter and that military power isn't important.

2. The public doesn't know what to think. Americans would never describe themselves as "imperialistic," even when we act that way. Conversely, there's still a pretty strong "Don't Tread On Me/America Should be Number One" sentiment, or at least I think so. The public is not getting much guidance from the political elites of either party.

3. It's going to be hard to know if there's been a fundamental shift until something really, really bad happens. When it does -- as it always does -- we will either snap back to past practice (which will also require, regardless of the particulars, a significant defense reinvestment; we are probably already at the point where we are no longer capable of a rapid and large response), or we won't. I wouldn't want to bet the mortgage either way.