Edward Snowden: Political Prisoner

There is no way Putin will let Edward Snowden go until the Russians learn everything he knows.

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Just in case you're curious, or for that matter to confirm your worst suspicions, there was no way that the Russians (and former KGB agent Vladimir Putin) were about to allow perhaps their greatest intelligence windfall in history – that being NSA leaker Edward Snowden – to slip through their fingers.

So they didn't allow it, and they won't.

Instead, Putin gave Snowden "temporary asylum" in Russia or some other such nonsense status – and a "job," to keep him there. Will they exploit him? Sure, and my guess is that he won't be able to leave until they get all he knows, one way or another.

[See a collection of editorial cartoons on the NSA.]

In other words, the "cover story" they put out for Snowden will change, if necessary, to be whatever it has to be until they get everything he has - or knows - about U.S. intelligence operations. In short, he's – in a very practical sense – a political prisoner, whether he has figured it out yet or not. This is because the Russians, just like the Soviets were, are obsessed with what we know about them and how we know it, and more than anything else they seek to prevent anyone from finding out what they are doing.

In fact, it's far more than an obsession with them – it is probably the most important thing driving Russian political and international behavior since the Czars, through the revolution, Lenin, Stalin, the Cold War and through the end of the Soviet Union itself.

[VOTE: Was Obama Right to Cancel His Talks With Russian President Vladimir Putin?]

But it didn't end there, because to many, and especially the KGB, it was Gorbachev's "Glasnost," or "openness" that brought the old Soviet Union down in the first place, and Putin certainly has that view of what he needs to do to stay in power. He intends to keep his corrupt regime around for a long time, and has no intention of allowing any kind of Western government "transparency" to bring him down.

So, the allegedly naïve Edward Snowden is just the latest window that the Russians have into what we know about them and how we know it – the others being convicted spies Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, and to a lessor extent, Pfc. Bradley Manning. Sure, Ames and Hanssen were motivated by money, and Manning and Snowden by "principal," they allege, but it's all the same to the Russians.

And they'll laugh all the way to the next summit.

Daniel Gallington is the senior policy and program adviser at the George C. Marshall Institute in Arlington, Va. He served in senior national security policy positions in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Department of Justice, and as bipartisan general counsel for the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

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