At this point, the dominant narrative in the American media on Edward Snowden is undoubtedly him being a traitor. The reason for a turn for the ‘worse’ is Snowden revealing to the world, especially to China and Hong Kong, how the United States hack their universities, public officials, and tapping into Pacnet, the major backbone of the Internet for the whole Asia region and stealing SMS and other communications. Kurt Eichenwald argued recently on that point, and major American reporters on Twitter are lauding that line of thinking as “cogent” and a “must read.” The idea there is that NSA’s ability to spy and hack the Chinese (and Russians and other countries the United States may get into conflict with) is severely compromised. If Snowden had kept to whistle-blowing only on the surveillance of Americans, the debate about whether he is a traitor would have continued. Since he divulged American spying and hacking capabilities to potential enemies, he has become a traitor. I buy that argument.
Eichenwald goes to argue, if the United States had not started trying to break Japanese encryption few years before the attack on Pearl Harbor, America would not have gained the upper hand during the Pacific war in knowing Japan’s secret communication of troop positions. Due to that ‘hacking’ under ‘friendly’ times, American lives were saved.
He went on a speculation from a friend who has been a career U.S. intelligence officer that Tsinghua University may have some arms control related program, and therefore hacking the communications between the school and the Chinese government is warranted.
If you are a patriot (or nationalist, because it’s the same coin), gaining an upper hand with or without probable cause is fair game. Tap an entire nation’s internet or phone networks; fair game. You could argue, I should cast a net that wide, because one out of 1.3 billion could be a terrorist. Or one out of 7 billion.
Seriously?! Would that work? Okay, this is where his argument breaks down for me.
Here are some real practical problems for the United States when you are that aggressive.
1. Google, Twitter, Facebook, and all the major American Internet services companies are already colluding with NSA to spy on people, and on foreigners with ZERO due-process. Therefore, there is no reason why a responsible government anywhere on this planet would allow their citizens to such abuse. They all mind as well implement a GFW to protect their citizens.
2. Software from major American corporations such as Microsoft, Adobe, Google, and Oracle are likely full of spyware planted by the NSA. Responsible governments the world over should plan to phase out foreign software.
3. Cars, airplanes, computers, phones, home appliances, or any form of machinery cannot be trusted. How is one country to know whether the planes it has purchased have bugs planted such that during time of war, they self-destruct?
4. Why should the world over buy seeds or farm products from America when Mosanto genetically modify food so they can be triggered to cause your citizen bodily harm?
5. The world over is guaranteed to bypass America’s strangle-hold on the Global Internet’s backbone. Countries will lay their own fiber-optic cables and set up peering networks to bypass American control.
American media has been on a binge playing up Chinese hacking America with little evidence. Now, put yourself in the shoes of the Chinese and think how they should react knowing what the U.S. government actually does?
The responsible thing to do for America at this juncture is to apologize to the world and work within a global framework to contain this sort of nonsense from escalating. America, being the only global superpower, will not face any negative consequence with her actions being made public. She may do nothing. However, if America cares about image, this fiasco is also an opportunity. And opportunity to lead our world towards rules of engagement.
So, while mainstream America may laud Eichenwald’s argument as “cogent,” they should pause and think how it is received around the world. Again, if they care about America’s image.