The List

Snowden's Butterfly Effect

5 unlikely consequences of the NSA leaks.

Like a bull in a china shop, Edward Snowden breaks everything he touches. Among the items left in tatters by his leaks over the past two months: a fragile détente between the United States and China over hacking, an on-again, off-again post-9/11 consensus on aggressive intelligence-gathering, and, perhaps most notably, the illusion of privacy in the digital era.

Now, the ramifications of Snowden's decision to reveal the National Security Agency's most closely held secrets have entered the stage of second- and third-order consequences. As my colleague John Hudson reports, the Snowden revelations and the subsequent chill in U.S.-Russian relations threaten to torpedo one of President Barack Obama's signature second-term initiatives: the reduction of deployed strategic nuclear weapons. With the president under immense pressure to retaliate against Russia for its decision to grant Snowden asylum, a planned summit between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin may not happen. As a result, the nuclear talks may collapse.

Call it the Snowden Butterfly Effect. Snowden's leaks have resounded in nearly every corner of global politics, and their precise consequences are only beginning to emerge. Most obviously, the former NSA contractor's disclosures have sparked a renewed debate over the scope of intelligence-gathering and handed China a powerful argument in countering American complaints over Chinese hacking activities.

Other consequences are far less obvious -- but no less significant.

The Return of WikiLeaks

Early on in the Snowden saga, I wrote an article with the headline, "Assange Struggles to Stay Relevant in Snowden Affair." Boy, was I wrong. When Snowden first revealed his identity and squirreled away in Hong Kong, WikiLeaks appeared to be looking on in jealousy. The world's most famous whistleblower had snubbed WikiLeaks in making his revelations, and Julian Assange hadn't received positive headlines in months. Withering away in the Ecuadorean embassy, the WikiLeaks founder sounded tired and drained, his organization on the ropes.

Now, WikiLeaks has come roaring back, refashioning itself as a legal advisor and aide to individuals disclosing government secrets. Assange lieutenant Sarah Harrison shepherded Snowden from Hong Kong to Russia's Sheremetyevo Airport, and now accompanies him in asylum somewhere in Moscow. With Snowden keeping a low profile, WikiLeaks has emerged as the sole interlocutor between the leaker and the world. As a result, the global media now hangs on Assange's every word. Once more, Assange and WikiLeaks are back exactly where they want to be -- at the center of a churning story with geopolitical ramifications.

 

The Sullying of Silicon Valley

Without the cooperation of America's most prominent technology companies, the NSA would never have been able to amass its extraordinary power. By asking -- and, in several cases, coercing -- Silicon Valley to provide gateways to its databases and servers, the agency has gained access to just about every corner of the web. But prior to the Snowden revelations, the full extent of that relationship had escaped public scrutiny.

By disclosing the links between the agency and companies like Facebook and Google, Snowden sparked a wave of investigations into Silicon Valley's ties to Fort Meade -- and the reputations of these companies have suffered immensely as a result. In June, the New York Times revealed that Max Kelly, Facebook's chief security officer, left the company in 2010 for the NSA. And in July, Reuters revealed that an intelligence agency paid $50,000 to an unnamed tech company supervisor who installed tampered computer chips in computers bound for a foreign customer so that they could be used for spying. Microsoft, meanwhile, found itself in the embarrassing position of running an ad campaign that declared "your privacy is our priority" just as the Guardian exposed that the company had handed over user content to the NSA and undermined its own encryption protocols for the agency's benefit.

Silicon Valley likes to pride itself on its so-called hacker culture -- a notion of digital innovation grounded in a commitment to smashing the status quo. Snowden's revelations have put the lie to that claim, and these companies are now reaping the fruits of that collaboration. As my colleague Shane Harris reports, other governments are digesting the NSA revelations with a mixture of awe and anger, and now want their own NSA-like capabilities. As a result, they may force companies to relocate their servers from the United States to the countries in which they operate -- making it that much easier to spy on their own citizens.

Strange Congressional Bedfellows

It isn't often that Tea Party Republicans and liberal Democrats find themselves on the same side of an issue, but in late July these two disparate factions united to very nearly pass an amendment in the House that would have defunded the NSA's bulk collection activities. They came within 12 votes of passing the measure. Incredibly, it required the personal intervention of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi -- no defense hawk herself -- to bring a fractious Democratic caucus into line and prevent the amendment's passage.

With 111 Democrats and 94 Republicans voting for the amendment, the final tally heralded a political marriage of convenience midwifed by Snowden. The amendment, which was co-sponsored by Justin Amash, a Michigan Republican, and John Conyers, a Detroit Democrat, would likely have never made it out of the House. But for critics of the NSA and America's surveillance state, the vote marked the closest anyone has come to seriously curtailing an intelligence agency's powers in the post-9/11 era. Without Snowden, that would never have happened.

Cooling Transatlantic Trade Talks

In his State of the Union address this year, President Obama announced that he was launching talks for a free trade pact with the European Union. But on the heels of revelations that the NSA has been aggressively spying on European states and their citizens, those talks are now under significant strain. With the United States struggling with sluggish growth and Europe mired in a protracted economic crisis, a trade pact between the two blocs could provide the jolt to jumpstart the two massive economies.

But no one, it seems, really wants to do business with Big Brother. "Our concern is that after the tragedy of 9/11 the U.S. security services may have run amok," Corien Wortmann-Kool, a Dutch member of the European Parliament, said in July. "We need to discuss the code of conduct and see that proper oversight is in place." The French government went so far as to say that trade talks should be delayed until the issues surrounding the spying disclosures have been settled, though Germany was none too pleased at the suggestion. In a measure of his newfound influence, Julian Assange was right in the thick of things, egging on the EU to strike back at the NSA and its overlords in Washington. "European Union states, first and foremost France and Germany, should reserve him their warmest welcome," the WikiLeaks founder wrote in an op-ed for the French newspaper Le Monde.

The Enduring Strength of the American Empire

As Edward Snowden scampered from Hawaii to Hong Kong to Moscow, eluding U.S. authorities at every turn, the United States found itself looking rather silly. Here was a young, skinny I.T. administrator bringing deep embarrassment to the most powerful country in the world -- and there was little the White House or anyone else could do about it. For the prophets of American decline, the Snowden saga offered yet another example of receding U.S. influence in the world. "However the Snowden episode turns out ... what it mainly illustrates is that we are living in an age of American impotence," Bret Stephens wrote in the Wall Street Journal. "The Obama administration has decided it wants out from nettlesome foreign entanglements, and now finds itself surprised that it's running out of foreign influence."

But even if the Obama administration has been unable to apprehend Snowden, the young NSA leaker forced the United States to flex its muscles - and, in so doing, helped prove just how influential a country America remains. Eager to repair fraying relations with Washington, Beijing washed its hands of the Snowden affair, encouraging him to leave Hong Kong for Moscow. And while Vladimir Putin's government has now granted Snowden a year-long temporary asylum, it is by no means obvious that the Russian president particularly relishes sheltering Snowden. The former KGB agent offered this choice comment on the benefits of keeping the NSA leaker in Russia: "It's like shearing a piglet. There's a lot of squealing and very little wool." Shortly thereafter, America's European allies forced Bolivian President Evo Morales's plane to land amid rumors that he managed to slip Snowden on board while leaving Moscow. That speculation turned out to be false, but the episode served as a not-so-gentle reminder of which countries in the world still have the ability to ground a presidential jet. Elsewhere in Latin America, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua have offered Snowden asylum -- but Ecuador shas not. Ecuador, of course, is harboring Julian Assange in its London embassy and was one of the first countries to speak out in Snowden's defense. In retaliation, Congress is letting Ecuador's preferential trade status lapse (not to be outdone, the authorities in Ecuador have renounced the deal, saying they refuse to be intimidated). But since the initial war of words between the two countries, an eerie silence has reigned in Quito (in July, it emerged that Ecuador had signed a $300,000 contract with a top lobbying firm in Washington). Comments by Ecuadorean officials that it would take "months" to decide whether to grant Snowden asylum spoke volumes.

The United States, in other words, still has a lot of weight to throw around in the world - even if those efforts have yet to unmoor Snowden from Moscow.

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The List

The Greatest Doomsday Speeches Never Made

Before Queen Elizabeth almost announced World War III, Nixon nearly read astronauts their eulogy and Eisenhower all but declared D-Day a failure.

 

On Thursday, the British National Archives released the script for a hypothetical 1983 speech that would have been delivered by Queen Elizabeth II in the event of a global nuclear war. The speech, written as if broadcast at midday on Friday, March 4, 1983, was drawn up as part of a war-gaming exercise conducted at a time of high tensions following Ronald Reagan's "evil empire" speech and NATO's "Able Archer" excercise.

In the speech, the queen refers to her childhood during World War II and to the famous 1939 speech by her father, King George VI, announcing the outbreak of war with Germany:

Now this madness of war is once more spreading through the world and our brave country must again prepare itself to survive against great odds.

I have never forgotten the sorrow and the pride I felt as my sister and I huddled around the nursery wireless set listening to my father's inspiring words on that fateful day in 1939. Not for a single moment did I imagine that this solemn and awful duty would one day fall to me.

We all know that the dangers facing us today are greater by far than at any time in our long history. The enemy is not the soldier with his rifle nor even the airman prowling the skies above our cities and towns but the deadly power of abused technology.

But whatever terrors lie in wait for us all the qualities that have helped to keep our freedom intact twice already during this sad century will once more be our strength.

Elizabeth would also have referred to her "beloved son Andrew," who was at that time serving in the Navy.

Neither this speech, nor any like it, was ever given. But it joins the ranks of famous doomsday speeches and dramatic statements on war and peace that were prepared but -- thankfully for all of us -- never delivered.

JFK: The U.S.-Soviet War Begins

Last year, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library released the speech that had been prepared in the event that the United States launched airstrikes against Cuba during the high-stakes missile crisis of October 1962.

"My fellow Americans, with a heavy heart, and in necessary fulfillment of my oath of office, I have ordered -- and the United States Air Force has now carried out -- military operations with conventional weapons only, to remove a major nuclear weapons build-up from the soil of Cuba," Kennedy begins.

He continues:

The United States of America need not and cannot tolerate defiance, decaption and offensive threats on the part of any nation, large or small. Nuclear weapons are so destructive, and ballistic missiles are so swift, that a sudden shift in the nature of their threat can be deeply dangerous -- especially when the trigger appears to be in the hands of a violent and unstable revolutionary leader. [...]

If the 1930's taught us any lesson at all, it was that aggressive conduct, if allowed to grow unchecked and unchallenged, will ultimately lead to war. This nation is opposed to war -- but it is true to its word.

According to some accounts, Kennedy's normal speechwriter Ted Sorensen, who was staunchly opposed to airstrikes, refused to write the speech, so it was drafted by National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy.

While Kennedy appeals for U.S. citizens to remain calm and calls for talks with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to discuss the situation, it's quite possible that this speech, if delivered, would have marked the beginning of a nuclear war.

ARTHUR EDWARDS/AFP/Getty Images

Nixon: Death on the Moon

In July 1969, legendary speechwriter William Safire drafted a speech -- considered by some to be among his best -- for President Richard Nixon to deliver in the event the Apollo 11 astronauts were unable to return to earth:

Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

These two men are laying down their lives in mankind's most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.

They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.

What makes the speech particularly macabre reading today is the use of present tense. Nixon says the men "are laying down their lives," and a supplementary note attached to the remarks specifies that before speaking the president should telephone the "widows-to-be." Aldrin and Armstrong would have been trapped on the moon listening to their own eulogy.

Eisenhower: The Failure of D-Day

The day before the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, wrote down a statement to be delivered if the Germans were able to repel the attack. It read:

Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air, and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.

Eisenhower carried the handwritten note in the wallet throughout the operation, but fortunately never had to deliver it.

Richard Nixon Foundation via Getty Images

Rice: The Missile Threat

On Sept. 11, 2001, then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice was due to deliver a speech at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies on "the threats and problems of today and the day after, not the world of yesterday." The speech was never delivered -- Rice spent much of the day in a bunker with other members of the Bush administration national security team -- but it pointedly focused on missile defense, rather than prevention of non-state terrorism -- as a priority:

We need to worry about the suitcase bomb, the car bomb and the vial of sarin released in the subway. [But] why put deadbolt locks on your doors and stock up on cans of mace and then decide to leave your windows open?

The full text of the speech was never released by the Bush administration, but according to the Washington Post, Rice intended to note disapprovingly that "the United States had spent $11 billion on counterterrorism, about twice as much as it spent on missile defence, during the previous year."

Rice made good on her promise to SAIS by delivering a speech on Sept. 11, 2002, focusing almost entirely on the threat of international terrorism.

Truman: What the 'Russkies' Understand

On June 12, 1948, U.S. President Harry Truman, then deeply unpopular and looking ahead to a grueling re-election fight, gave a national radio address from the University of California, Berkeley in which he placed the blame for rising Cold War tensions solely with the Russians. "The refusal of the Soviet Union to work with its wartime allies for world recovery and world peace is the most bitter disappointment of our time," Truman said, concluding, "the only expansion we are interested in is the expansion of human freedom."

It was a blunt speech, but it was downright genteel compared to the original draft Truman had written, published years later along with his private papers. Discussing his disappointments with the Russian government following the 1945 Potsdam conference between the allied leaders, Truman would have said, "I had the kindliest feelings for Russia and the Russian people and I liked Stalin. But I found after a patient year that Russian agreements are made to be broken."

Truman says he had come to realize that the United States had demobilized its armed forces too quickly after the war because "mamma and papa and every Congressman wanted every boy discharged at once after Japan folded up." He argues for the United States to maintain universal military training, concluding, "our friends the Russkies understand only one language -- how many divisions have you -- actual or potential..."

Probably a good thing he made some revisions.

AFP/Getty Images