Will China Offer Snowden Freedom-for-Information deal?

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
June 14 2013 11:55 AM

Will China Offer Snowden Freedom in Exchange for Information?

170424873
Protesters shout slogans in support of Edward Snowden as they march to the U.S. consulate in Hong Kong on June 13

Photo by PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Edward Snowden’s revelations keep coming. On Friday, the South China Morning Post reported that the former National Security Agency contractor shared details on the IP addresses of the computers in Hong Kong and China that the NSA had hacked over the last four years. The detailed data also reveals “whether an attack on a computer was ongoing or had been completed, along with an amount of additional operational information,” reports the Hong Kong daily. Snowden insisted that he felt comfortable sharing this information because the targets were civilian computers. "I don't know what specific information they were looking for on these machines, only that using technical exploits to gain unauthorized access to civilian machines is a violation of law. It's ethically dubious," Snowden said.

Snowden’s justification seems either naïve or purposefully misleading. As the New York Times points out, the line between the civilian sector and the government is hardly clear-cut in China. While some legal analysts say Snowden may be “digging his own grave,” as one put it, others contend that the leaks could encourage Beijing to prevent the former contractor’s extradition if he agrees to share what he knows. At the very least, the revelations to the Hong Kong paper seem to demonstrate he has plenty of information that Beijing might find interesting. So far though it isn’t clear whether Beijing will get involved, according to a South China Morning Post source. There’s much officials could learn from Snowden. Former CIA chief of staff Jeremy Bash tells ABC News that “if a foreign government learned everything that was in Edward Snowden's brain, they would have a good window into the way we collect signals intelligence.”

Advertisement

Some in Beijing insist Snowden gives China an opportunity that can’t be wasted. On Friday, the Global Times, a Communist Party mouthpiece, called on Beijing to get all the information it can out of Snowden and to treat him well so that others who may have secrets might be encouraged to seek refuge in Hong Kong:

The Chinese government should acquire more solid information from Snowden if he has it, and use it as evidence to negotiate with the U.S.
Snowden is a political offender against the U.S., but what he is doing benefits the world. His actions test, rather than disturb, the bilateral ties.
Public opinion will turn against China's central government and the Hong Kong SAR government if they choose to send him back.
Snowden is a "card" that China never expected. But China is neither adept at nor used to playing it. China should make sure that Hong Kong is not the last place where other "Snowdens" want to go.  At the very least, Hong Kong should be an acceptable destination for them.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reveals that the British government has issued a travel alert, warning airlines not allow to Snowden to travel to the United Kingdom.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.