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WikiLeaks, Greenwald blast Guardian journalist’s book on ‘FSB prisoner’ Snowden

Published time: February 03, 2014 19:06
Edited time: February 04, 2014 12:58
Edward Snowden (Still from YouTube video/henningerflats)

Edward Snowden (Still from YouTube video/henningerflats)

Whistleblowing project WikiLeaks has excoriated a new book by Guardian foreign correspondent Luke Harding, who claims former NSA contractor Edward Snowden is being kept hostage by the Russian security agency, the FSB.

A new “exclusive extract” from Harding’s book “The Snowden Files,” published by the Guardian on Sunday, has sparked a furious reaction from supporters of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, including WikiLeaks and former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald.

Titled “Is Edward Snowden a prisoner in Russia?” the extract appeared to focus on Harding’s favorite topic – the activities of Russia’s Federal Security Service, the FSB, which the author views as a simple rebranding of the notorious Soviet KGB agency. It is full of clichés of “the Kremlin’s hand” and “FSB connections,” and referring to East Berlin the author does not hesitate to brand it “Stasiland.”

Readers may wonder where Snowden, who exposed the vast surveillance activities of the US security agency, the NSA, and has been stranded in Moscow ever since the US revoked his passport, fits into this picture. Harding claims: “The hacker turned whistleblower had got his asylum. But the longer he stayed out of public view, the more it appeared that he was, in some informal way, the FSB’s prisoner.”

Luke Harding (Image from Twitter @lukeharding1968)

According to Harding, from the very start of Snowden’s stay in Russia the former CIA employee has been surrounded by “minders” from the FSB, with even his trusted lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, being an FSB-handpicked “person of the system.”

Harding then attempts to find every possible hint of Snowden being under Russian pressure in those few statements and video recordings of the whistleblower released during his time in Sheremetyevo Airport and afterward. Allegations of Snowden being a Russian spy or his leaks archive having been possibly accessed by the Russian agents are also cited, although Harding himself clearly does not believe Snowden to be a “traitor.”

The end of the extract outlines an imagined bleak future for Snowden, saying that: “He is a guest of the Russian Federation, whether he likes it or not. And, in some sense, its captive. No one quite knows how long his exile might last. Months? Years? Decades?”

However, Harding does not mention in the extract that Russia was the only country that did provide the whistleblower with a safe haven, despite the threat of a diplomatic row with the US. He also does not mention that it was Washington that left Snowden stranded in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport transit zone by canceling his US passport.

But crucially, it turns out that all of Harding’s reasoning and allegations are based on media reports and Snowden’s statements available on the internet. According to WikiLeaks, Harding never contacted Snowden.

In a flurry of tweets and re-tweets WikiLeaks on Monday called to boycott the “hack-job” of the “anti-Russian plagiarist.”

The ‘plagiarist’ tweet refers to Harding’s time as the Guardian’s Moscow correspondent. In 2007, readers of the Exile, a now-defunct English-language newspaper, alerted its editors to a Harding piece in the Guardian which was remarkably similar to one the Exile had published earlier.

Once alerted to this, the Guardian published an apology, which can still be found on the Exile’s archive, but which is no longer able to be found on the Guardian’s site. In fact, any attempt by commenters to alert readers to Harding’s history as a plagiarist is soon dealt with by moderators, and the offending user profile is canceled.

WikiLeaks also noted that Harding’s earlier work was behind the last year’s “The Fifth Estate” movie referred to as a “massive propaganda attack” on the project’s leader Julian Assange.

Snowden’s confidant, independent journalist Glenn Greenwald, also joined the criticism on his Twitter page.

The article was not well received by many Guardian readers either.

“Luke, if you wanted to write an article about your contempt for the FSB you would have been better served in not using Snowden as a convenient foil for your diatribe against them… It is not journalism. It comes off as a contrivance,” reader LiberalinCalif wrote in the comments section of the Guardian’s website.

“He [Snowden] is in Russia not because he wants to or the Russians want him to stay. He is stuck in Russia because the US cancelled his passport. Surely, you haven’t forgotten that just on suspicion that he may be in the plane the Bolivian president was flying in, the plane was not allowed to enter the air space of European countries on the order of the United State[s],” user ValuePlus wrote.

Some more prosaic readers suggested Harding was “speculating all the way” just for “promoting his book,” and wondered if it was ethical for the author and the UK media to “try and cash in on Snowden’s name.”

Harding worked as The Guardian’s Moscow correspondent from 2007 until he was refused entry into Russia in February 2012 at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport. While he has claimed the move was an expulsion linked to his critical articles on the Russian government, for Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that his visa was not renewed due to violations involving visits to restricted areas by the journalist.

A week after being denied entry to the country, Harding was issued with a short-term visa. He stayed for a short while, but then relocated to London. In his subsequent Guardian-published book about his time in Russia, titled, “Mafia State: How One Reporter Became an Enemy of the Brutal New Russia,” Harding detailed what he claimed was a systematic campaign of harassment against him and his family by the FSB.