Edward Snowden -- Putin's pawn of the month

This week, there has been a new development in the Edward Snowden road show. The former NSA technician, turned PRISM whistleblower, has been told by Russia he may be able to leave the Moscow airport and enter the country. If that's true and happens, whatever the future holds for him, I suspect it’s going to be bleak.

We’ve no evidence that he’s a Russian spy, and even though it’s likely he will have cooperated with the Russian authorities, that doesn’t mean he’ll be given a hero’s welcome in the motherland.

History shows that even some of the most important Western spies who’ve worked for Russia or the USSR before fleeing to live there have died in miserable squalor, as paupers and jokes.


Look at the latter days of the infamous but very successful British Cambridge spy ring members who defected to Moscow in the 1950s.

Despite comprehensively betraying the West on behalf of the Soviet Union, when in exile in Moscow they were put under 24/7 surveillance by the KGB and every aspect of their lives were bugged by the Soviets who never truly trusted them.

The spy ring knew that and drank vodka and cheap champagne to numb the pain of their hellish existence until the booze inevitably killed them.

Snowden’s nowhere near the professional and intellectual league of Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, and Guy Burgess, so his prospects are far worse.

Whatever you think about the startling revelations about PRISM, Snowden’s a nomad with a grudge and a story to tell. Worse, he’s a weak man who lacked the courage to stay in the United States and defend his self proclaimed righteous cause. He may regret that, because there’s one thing he will learn about Russians: they hate weakness.

It doesn’t end there.As a former MI6 field operative, I can tell you that intelligence officers respect the counterparts they combat in the secret war, and the foreign assets who work for all sides and put their lives on the line to spy on their country.

We’re all professionals, doing a very tough, complex, sometimes chaotic, always dangerous, job and the mutual respect we have for each other is no different from that found between two opposing armies of highly trained soldiers.

That respect is extant, even if we have no hesitation in destroying our enemies to obtain our objectives.But whether you’re a CIA, MI6, or Russian SVR operative, no intelligence professional likes an aggrieved snitch like Snowden who thinks he’s better than the entire intelligence apparatus he worked alongside in a lowly position.

President Vladimir Putin will have personally authorized Snowden’s transition into Russia. But Putin himself is a former lieutenant colonel in the KGB and I suspect he will be viewing Snowden with utter contempt.

So why did Putin make the decision to allow the former NSA traitor to stay in Moscow and potentially Russia itself in turn send a strong Russian signal of provocation to America?

Why didn’t it serve him up on a plate to the United States in return for significant political or economic favors?

It’s not the first time this year that Russia has favored petulance and antagonism towards America over canny back-channel realpolitik.

In May, it captured CIA officer Ryan Fogel during an undercover operation in Moscow, humiliated and berated him on camera, before chucking him out of Russia

The reason why Russia didn’t play clever with the Snowden situation rests solely with Vladimir Putin’s fears and lack of confidence in his state.

He needs the support of a vast populous, and believes the best way to do that is to act like a throwback to former European dictators, bang his chest, pretend to be the strong man, pout, and antagonize America.

He’s making a pretty good job of doing that and a lousy job of presenting himself as an international statesman.

None of which helps Edward Snowden. He’s Putin’s pawn of the month, and if he's eventually allowed into Russia, it's quite possible he'll soon be shuffling along the streets of Moscow with only a few rubles in his pocket and with no idea where he’s headed.