Was the US government punked?

A question that has been swirling around is how it could have happened that the European governments got it all wrong about Edward Snowden being on the Bolivian president’s plane and caused them, in what can be described as an act of air piracy, to close their airspace and force it to land in Austria, creating a backlash around the world at what was seen as a naked act of western imperialism and colonialism.

How could the US government get such a basic fact wrong when the stakes involved were so high?

So far, the various governments involved are being cagey about what caused the fiasco while at the same time trying to pass the buck.

Spain on Friday said it had been warned along with other European countries that Snowden, a former U.S. intelligence worker, was aboard the Bolivian presidential plane, an acknowledgement that the manhunt for the fugitive leaker had something to do with the plane’s unexpected diversion to Austria.

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo told Spanish National Television that “they told us that the information was clear, that he was inside.”

He did not identify who “they” were and declined to say whether he had been in contact with the U.S. But he said that European countries’ decisions were based on the tip. France has since sent a letter of apology to the Bolivian government.

Another possibility is that they were deliberately punked with false information and if so by whom. But whether the US government got it wrong by themselves or were deliberately deceived, it does not reflect well on their much-vaunted intelligence operations.

It would be wonderful if it eventually turned out that Snowden was the man who punked them.


  1. Chiroptera says

    “Punked.” There’s a phrase I haven’t heard in a while. Not a criticism — I always quite liked it.

    Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo told Spanish National Television that “they told us that the information was clear, that he was inside.”

    And does that even matter? I’m a little sketchy on international law: wouldn’t a plane carrying the head of a sovereign state be similar to an embassy?

  2. Reginald Selkirk says

    Maybe Snowden was aboard, but he parachuted over the Czech Republic.

  3. slc1 says

    If, indeed, this was set up by Snowden, it was a wise move as it demonstrates the lengths that the Obama administration will go to get him. It may also explain why he might well have been right not to have been on the plane to Cuba where he had a reserved seat.

  4. Chiroptera says

    That’d be cool. I’m sure D. B. Cooper has enough dough to host him in style.

  5. eigenperson says

    I believe that the US government is more than capable of screwing this up all by itself, without anyone deliberately trying to fool them.

    Assuming it was the US who ordered France and Spain to force down the plane, whoever instigated that should be tossed out on their ear posthaste. Whoever thought it was reasonable to deliver such an insult to a friendly nation, just to (maybe) catch one leaker, should not be authorized to make any decision more important than what kind of coffee to use in the office percolator.

  6. lanir says

    In realistic person to person terms, I’m sure whatever US spy networks are working on this are under quite a lot of pressure to present something. That’s the sort of thing that leads to screw-ups like this. Unfortunately for whoever pulled the trigger on this, their blatant and mistaken overreach was hugely visible around the world and sends a pretty clear message.

    According to this guardian article, they haven’t learned much either:
    Snowden’s Venezuela offer ‘last chance’ for political asylum – Russian official

    The US highest ranking military official acknowledged Sunday that Snowden’s disclosures had already damaged US relations with some allies and affected “the importance of trust”.

    The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, told CNN that the US will “work our way back. But it has set us back temporarily.”

    Kind of wish I’d been a reporter at that one. Follow-up would have been easy. “So you’re not saying you screwed up, you’re saying you blame the guy who told everyone else involved that you screwed up. Just have one question then. Where were you when I was 5 years old and trying to steal cookies from the cookie jar? At five years old this kind of blatant ‘blame it on someone else’ thing would have been awesome. Now it’s just kind of sad.”

  7. cotton says

    All arguments aside, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bolivian president was put up to this by Snowden in an effort to find out what the US would do if a plane carrying him did fly out of Moscow. A dry run if you will. The US tipped its hand and now Snowden knows he was right to avoid the Cuban flight. Had he taken it that plane would have probably been diverted as well. If this was indeed a dry run, whoever realized the danger of the flight and came up with this plan to test it is one smart cookie.

  8. Nathanael says

    The US government is *extremely predictable*. Snowden said exactly what they were going to do, and the US government did exactly what he said they were going to do.

    It’s important to realize that not only is the US government doing utterly evil things, like assassinating 16-year-old kids and spying on everyone all the time…. it’s also really, really deeply incompetent. A real warlord could wipe the floor with it. And probably will, in a few decades, if this keeps up. In the meantime, anyone fairly clever and determined can outmanever the US government for a very long time. Putin is running rings about the US geopoliticallly.

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