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Former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden poses for a photo during an interview in an undisclosed location in December 2013 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo: Barton Gellman via Getty Images)

Former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden poses for a photo during an interview in an undisclosed location in December 2013 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo: Barton Gellman via Getty Images)

Dramatic Arrest of Journalist by Belarus Highlights US Targeting of Snowden in 2013

"Downing aircraft to pursue the arrest of dissidents has always been outrageous," the NSA whistleblower said Monday.

Kenny Stancil

While the dramatic arrest of dissident journalist Roman Protasevich by the Belarusian government over the weekend was fiercely condemned worldwide, press freedom advocates on Monday not only called for the reporter's release but also highlighted how the actions taken by Belarus were eerily similar to an effort in 2013 by the U.S. and other Western governments to capture NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

 "Downing aircraft to pursue the arrest of dissidents has always been outrageous... and should be opposed no matter the flag under which it occurs."
—Edward Snowden

Protasevich, a well-known critic of Belarus' authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, was taken into custody after the plane that he and 122 other passengers were traveling on—en route from Athens, Greece to Vilnius, Lithuania, where Protasevich lives in exile—was forced to land. 

Although they readily admitted that Lukashenko's government had violated international treaties governing airspace and was deserving of condemnation, critics of the corporate media and U.S. foreign policy were eager to point out that Belarus' behavior was not unprecedented; in fact, they said, some of the same Western officials denouncing Belarus' arrest of Protasevich were complicit in the 2013 plot to intercept Snowden.

"For anyone shocked at the Belarus plane grounding, remember, the U.S. did the same thing to the president of Bolivia in an attempt to kidnap Edward Snowden," journalist Alan MacLeod said Monday.

In 2013, the plane carrying then-Bolivian President Evo Morales from Russia was rerouted to and stuck in Vienna for 13 hours at the suspected behest of the U.S., which believed that Morales, who was returning to Bolivia following a summit in Moscow, had clandestinely helped Snowden, then stranded at the city's international airport, on board.

The whistleblower—who has lived in Russia for almost eight years since being granted temporary asylum, followed by permanent residency last October—was not found on the flight.

Snowden on Monday weighed in on the parallels between the repressive scheme that the U.S. and key European Union states used in their failed attempt to capture him and Belarus' recent hunt for Protasevich, arguing that "downing aircraft to pursue the arrest of dissidents has always been outrageous... and should be opposed no matter the flag under which it occurs."

The hypocrisy of Western officials—including Jen Psaki, now the White House press secretary but in 2013 the spokesperson for the Obama State Department who admitted that the U.S. had been in contact with multiple countries in an effort to track down Snowden—was the subject of an essay published Monday by journalist Glenn Greenwald, who famously reported on materials leaked to him by Snowden and shed light on the Obama administration's persecution of the whistleblower.

"News accounts in the West which are depicting [Belarus' arrest of Protasevich] as some sort of unprecedented assault on legal conventions governing air travel and basic decency observed by law-abiding nations are whitewashing history," Greenwald wrote.

"No journalist, especially Western ones, should be publishing articles or broadcasting stories falsely depicting Sunday's incident as an unprecedented assault that could be perpetrated only by a Russian-allied autocrat," he added. "The tactic was pioneered by the very countries who today are most vocally condemning what happened."

Greenwald continued:

Illustrating how little the U.S. cares about even pretending to abide by the standards it imposes on others, the Biden administration on Monday sent out Psaki herself to condemn Belarus' conduct as "a shocking act" and "a brazen affront to international freedom and peace and security by the regime." It would not even occur to Biden officials—just for the sake of appearances if nothing else—to try to find someone to do this other than the same person who, in 2013, obfuscated and defended the actions of the U.S. and E.U. in doing the same thing to Bolivia's presidential plane. U.S. officials simply do not believe that they are bound by the same standards to which its adversaries must be subjected.


The only two differences between these situations that one can locate are factors against the Western nations responsible for the downing of Morales' plane. Unlike what Belarus did, the U.S. and its European allies obviously had no confirmation of Snowden's presence on the plane. They forced it to land based on a guess, on rumor, on speculation, which turned out to be utterly false. The second difference is that there are obviously additional international and diplomatic implications from forcing the plane of a democratically elected president to land as opposed to a standard passenger jet: that is, at the very least, a profound attack on the sovereignty of that country. Again, there are no valid justifications for what Belarus did, but to the extent one wants to distinguish its actions from what U.S./E.U. nations did in 2013, those are the only identifiable differences.

Others chimed in to draw attention to British and U.S. complicity in the plight of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and demand that he be released in addition to Protasevich.

In his essay, Greenwald wrote that "the blatant double standards the U.S. and Europe have endlessly tried to impose upon the world—whereby they are freely permitted to do exactly what they condemn when done by others—is not just a matter of standard lawlessness and hypocrisy."

"In Western media discourse, only Bad Countries are capable of bad acts; the U.S. and its allies are capable, at worst, only of well-intentioned mistakes," Greenwald continued.

"When the U.S. media helps to perpetuate this narrative, it deceives and misleads the audience they purportedly inform by concealing the bad acts of the U.S. and implying if not stating that such acts are the sole province of the Bad Countries who are adverse to the U.S.," he added. "Doing so both enables rogue nation behavior by Western powers and implants jingoistic propaganda."

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