US President will be going for G20 meet in Moscow despite Russian move, says White House advisor
More revelations of spying – Australia on Malaysia; Malaysia on organised and violent crime suspects
DESPITE strong calls by American lawmakers for Barack Obama (pic) to skip a scheduled meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin after Moscow granted asylum to whistleblower Edward Snowden, the US President will probably not do so, according to a White House advisor.
“We’re disappointed with the step Russia took, but we will be addressing this with them directly going forward, in the context of the broader US-Russia relationship,” said Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications for President Obama.
The meeting with Putin is supposed to take place before the two presidents join other leaders for a G20 summit in St Petersburg. “The President will be going to the G20 summit,” Rhodes said at a briefing with the media in Kuala Lumpur on Aug 2.
However, Rhodes, who was in Kuala Lumpur when the issue blew up, stressed that he was not involved in discussions on how the White House should respond to Moscow granting asylum to Snowden, and reiterated White House press secretary Jay Carney’s statement that the United States was disappointed with Russia’s move.
“We are extremely disappointed that the Russian government would take this step despite our very clear and lawful requests in public and in private to have Mr Snowden expelled to the United States to face the charges against him,” Carney said at a press briefing by the White House.
Snowden, a former contractor with the US National Security Agency (NSA), had disclosed information of a clandestine national security electronic surveillance programme called PRISM that had been in operation since 2007. Wanted by US authorities on espionage changes, he had fled first to Hong Kong and then to Moscow.
In his disclosure and subsequent interviews with the press, he said that US intelligence agencies had been collecting data on phone calls and other communications of Americans and foreign citizens. His revelations sparked an uproar both within the United States and abroad.
In August, Snowden further revealed that these agencies also have access to an online tracking tool called XKeyscore program, which British newspaper The Guardian described as the NSA's widest-reaching system that covers “nearly everything a typical user does on the Internet.”
Australia spies on Malaysia, Malaysia spies on …
Over the weekend, the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) reported that Australian intelligence sources confirmed that XKeyscore has also been used to spy on other Asia Pacific countries, including Malaysia.
“Australian intelligence sources recently confirmed to Fairfax Media that Australia’s electronic espionage agency, the Defence Signals Directorate, was a ‘full partner’ in the programme,” said the SMH report, referring to its parent company, The Malay Mail Online reported.
The revelations come at a sticky time for the Malaysian Government, the online version of The Malay Mail noted, with Putrajaya announcing it will soon be introducing new measures that allow law enforcers to intercept communications and snap electronic bracelets to track hardcore crime suspects.
In announcing the measures, Senator Idris Jala, chief executive officer of the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) in the Prime Minister’s Department, said that Malaysia’s Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) “has a new provision that allows interception of communications to enhance the capabilities of law enforcement officers to compile evidence against organised and violent crime offenders.”
Idris also said a new provision in the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA) will allow the use of electronic monitoring devices to track the movement of offenders to ensure they do not commit another crime while out on bail, The Malay Mail Online reported.
Pemandu has for months been denying that the crime rate in Malaysia had been worsening, despite reports otherwise, but is now taking action after a spate of shootings – seven within a week – caused public outrage and spurred demands for stronger action from the Government and police to combat crime.
Russian move outrages US leaders
While Rhodes believes that Obama will probably go ahead with his meeting with Putin, the US President has yet to confirm it. Leaders in both the Democratic and Republican camps are urging him to send a strong signal to Russia.
“It is a slap in the face of all Americans,” Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said in a joint statement, Reuters reported.
“Now is the time to fundamentally rethink our relationship with Putin's Russia. We need to deal with the Russia that is, not the Russia we might wish for. We cannot allow today's action by Putin to stand without serious repercussions,” they said.
Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer urged the US President to retaliate by recommending that the G20 summit be moved out of Russia.
“Russia has stabbed us in the back, and each day that Mr Snowden is allowed to roam free is another twist of the knife,” Schumer said, according to Reuters.
In his briefing at the White House, press secretary Carney said that “Mr Snowden is not a whistleblower.”
“He is accused of leaking classified information and has been charged with three felony counts, and he should be returned to the United States as soon as possible where he will be accorded full due process and protections,” he added.
Meanwhile, Rhodes (pic) said that “this isn’t because the United States does not want to debate these surveillance programmes – we are in fact involved in such discussions in the United States, and President Obama has been meeting members of the US Congress and has been discussing them publicly.
“Rather, this has to do with how our laws work and the way in which individuals, who by law are supposed to protect this information, and if, by the law, they disclose that information in an unauthorised way,” he said when briefing Malaysian media on Obama’s scheduled visit to Kuala Lumpur to attend the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in October.
Note: The White House has announced the President Obama will not be attending GES because of the US Government shutdown.
When asked if the United States feared more security secrets being disclosed, now to the Russians, Rhodes said he would not want to speculate, but added that the United States has been consistent in its position that there should not be unauthorised disclosure of information.
“Again, these issues can be discussed and debated, but the way in which the information is released is not just unauthorised, according to our laws, but can be potentially harmful to our ability to protect our own national interests and security.
“So on the one hand, we will discuss these publicly in the United States as we work through our surveillance programmes, but we will continue to oppose the unauthorised disclosure of information,” he added.
The fourth Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES 2013), which will be held in Kuala Lumpur from Oct 11-12, is being spearheaded by Malaysia’s Ministry of Finance.
Up next: What Obama plans for GES message, and bilateral discussions with Malaysia
USA vs the world: The problems with PRISM
How the PRISM surveillance scandal affects Asia
Countdown begins to GES, Obama slated to attend
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