It seems the question on many people's minds, as scandal after scandal crashes on the shores of Obama's White House is best summed up by The Telegraph's Damian Thompson. Yet another non-US paper asks, will Obama last the duration of his second term in a surveillance context where what has been revealed is said to be worse than Watergate.
Via The Telegraph,
"They could pay off the Triads," says Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower interviewed by the Guardian in his Hong Kong hideout. Meaning: the CIA could use a proxy to kill him for revealing that Barack Obama has presided over an unimaginable – to the ordinary citizen – expansion of the Federal government's powers of surveillance over anyone.
Libertarians and conspiracy theorists of both Left and Right will never forget this moment. Already we have Glenn Beck hailing Snowden on Twitter:
Courage finally. Real. Steady. Thoughtful. Transparent. Willing to accept the consequences. Inspire w/Malice toward none.#edwardsnowden
Snowden will be a Right-wing hero as well as a Left-libertarian one. Why? First, he thought carefully about what he should release, avoiding (he says) material that would harm innocent individuals. Second, he's formidably articulate. Quotes like the following are pure gold for opponents of Obama who've been accusing the President of allowing the Bush-era "surveillance state" to extend its tentacles even further:
NSA is focussed on getting intelligence wherever it can by any means possible... Increasingly we see that it's happening domestically. The NSA specifically targets the communications of everyone, it ingests them by default, it collects them in its system and it filters them and it analyses them and it measures them and its stores them for periods of time ... While they may be intending to target someone associated with a foreign government or someone they suspect of terrorism, they're collecting your communications to do so. Any analyst at any time can target anyone…
I do not see how Obama can talk his way out of this one. Snowden is not Bradley Manning: he's not a disturbed disco bunny but a highly articulate network security specialist who has left behind a $200,000 salary and girlfriend in Hawaii for a life on the run. He's not a sleazy opportunist like Julian Assange, either. As he says: "I'm willing to sacrifice all of that because I can't in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they're secretly building."
It will be very difficult for the Obama administration to portray Snowden as a traitor. For a start, I don't think US public opinion will allow it. Any explanations it offers will be drowned out by American citizens demanding to know:
"So how much do you know about me and my family? How can I find out? How long have you been collecting this stuff? What are you going to do with it?"
Suddenly the worse-than-Watergate rhetoric doesn't seem overblown. And I do wonder: can a president who's presided over, and possibly encouraged, Chinese-style surveillance of The Land of the Free honestly expect to serve out his full term?