After Edward Snowden stunned the world by disclosing the expansive surveillance carried out by the US National Security Agency (NSA), for some, he became a hero overnight. But for US officials who were on the backfoot having to explain away the chaos triggered by the exposure, Snowden was definitely a loathsome betrayer. And now he has been given another identity: a spy for China or Russia.
In his new book How America Lost Its Secrets, Edward Jay Epstein, a veteran writer on espionage, elaborated on his theory that the Snowden story can only be explained in three ways: it was an espionage operation by Russia, China, or the two jointly, which he purportedly got from an unnamed former member of President Barack Obama's cabinet.
As The New York Times put it, Epstein outlined a hypothesis with no solid evidence at all, and the spirit of James Jesus Angleton, CIA chief during the peak of the Cold War, could be traced easily in the book.
China and Russia are often easy targets for the US when it can't find an excuse for its mishaps, especially since Snowden stayed in Hong Kong before he flew to Moscow for asylum. Some senior US officials attempted to guide the public into questioning China's role in the massive disclosure since it was such a huge disgrace to the US that its most wanted whistleblower found shelter in another country. The US was the one to take the moral high ground in sheltering asylum seekers from other countries.
Interestingly, outgoing Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter was among the list of people Epstein thanked for their "insights, erudition and criticisms." This vague acknowledgement seems to add some credit to the author's hypothesis.
Last October, Harold Thomas Martin III, another NSA contractor, was charged with stealing thousands of classified intelligence files, again revealing the loopholes in the US intelligence system. The US would be better off looking to its own problems, rather than deflecting responsibility by pointing fingers at others.
Hopefully the book won't be taken seriously. The simplistic Cold-War mentality in the book should not be used to deal with Sino-US relations, one of the most important relationships nowadays.
In today's world, countries' interests are intertwined, which means cooperation, not confrontation. This is especially so for the two largest economies.
A writer is free to put down whatever is in his mind, be it fact or fiction. But it can never be what the US government counts on to make its policies over China.