Germany Joins Team Snowden?

Marc Champion writes editorials on international affairs. He was previously Istanbul bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal. He was also an editor at the Financial Times, the editor-in-chief of the Moscow Times and a correspondent for the Independent in Washington, the Balkans and Moscow. He is based in London.
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At the beginning of the Edward Snowden affair -- way back in July, before the shock waves from his intelligence leaks had reached Europe -- France, Italy, Portugal and Spain did the U.S. a big favor: They blocked the president of Bolivia's plane from passing through their airspace.

The U.S. suspected that President Evo Morales had smuggled Snowden onto the aircraft in Moscow and was taking him home. That turned out to be wrong and Europe's governments were embarrassed -- you don't turn back the planes of passing Latin American presidents without getting pasted for colonialism. Which of those countries would block their airspace for the U.S. today? Any government would now suffer political damage from helping the U.S. against Snowden in such a public way.

The debate in Germany about how to get Snowden to testify to a planned Bundestag inquiry into the U.S. spying allegations offers a good gauge of how public sentiment, and government attitudes, in Europe are changing.

German Green Party lawmaker Hans-Christian Stroebele said at a press conference today that he had just been to meet Snowden in Moscow. He said he asked the leaker to come to Germany and testify concerning the materials he has released suggesting that the NSA bugged Chancellor Angela Merkel's cell phone for a decade, among other extensive digital spying on the Germans, French and Spaniards.

Stroebele even co-signed a "To whom it may concern" letter, in which Snowden complained that his government continued "to treat dissent as defection, and seeks to criminalize political speech with felony charges."

Germans may be naive about this issue, but they are seriously upset by it. Not surprisingly, Snowden is by now widely seen as a whistle-blower who has acted in their interests, rather than a law breaker who has damaged an ally. According to Der Spiegel, the Bundestag's research department has issued an opinion that it would be possible to offer Snowden safe passage, despite an extradition treaty with the U.S.

Meanwhile Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said this: "If Mr. Snowden is ready to talk to the German authorities, we will find possibilities to make this conversation possible." Snowden himself, according to Stroebele, said he would be willing to go to Berlin to testify -- but only if he then received asylum in Germany, or an equivalent country.

Still, it would be foolish to predict with confidence what happens next in this story. Who knows what other revelations Snowden has stored up.

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To contact the author on this story:
Marc Champion at mchampion7@bloomberg.net