Foreign Policy Glenn Greenwald International Politics

Ben Rhodes’ Book Proves Obama Officials’ Lies, and His Own, About Edward Snowden and Russia

It is hard to overstate the sociopathy of U.S. national security officials: their casual willingness to blatantly lie about the gravest matters is limitless.
Ben Rhodes sits with Barack Obama on Air Force One in 2011.
Then-President Barack Obama meets aboard Air Force One with Ben Rhodes, serving at the time as deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, in Sept. 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

By Glenn Greenwald / Substack

Ever since Edward Snowden received asylum from Russia in 2013, Obama officials have repeatedly maligned his motives and patriotism by citing his “choice” to take up residence there. It has long been clear that this narrative was a lie: Snowden, after meeting with journalists in Hong Kong, intended only to transit through Moscow and then Havana on his way to seek asylum in Latin America. He was purposely prevented from leaving Russia — trapped in the Moscow airport — by the very Obama officials who then cynically weaponized his presence there to imply he was a civil-liberties hypocrite for “choosing” to live in such a repressive country or, even worse, a Kremlin agent or Russian spy.

But now we have absolute, definitive proof that Snowden never intended to stay in Russia but was deliberately prevented from leaving by the same Obama officials who exploited the predicament which they created. The proof was supplied unintentionally in the memoir of one of Obama’s senior national security advisers, Ben Rhodes, entitled The World as It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House. It is hard to overstate how dispositively Rhodes’ own book proves that Obama officials generally, and Rhodes specifically, lied blatantly and cavalierly to the public about what happened: a level of sustained and conscious lying that can be explained only by sociopathy.

Book cover of Ben Rhodes' "The World as It Is"

The memoir of Rhodes, now appropriately an MSNBC contributor, is an incredibly self-serving homage to himself that repeatedly attempts to demonstrate his own importance and accomplishments. The passage about Rhodes’ conduct regarding Snowden is very much aligned with those goals. While repeatedly emphasizing how traumatic the Snowden revelations were for the Obama administrations, Rhodes boasts of the crucial role he played in preventing Snowden from leaving Russia as the NSA whistleblower was desperately attempting to do so — exactly the opposite of what people like Rhodes and Hillary Clinton were telling the public about Snowden.

It is really beyond words how willing these people are to lie. One chapter of Rhodes’ book is devoted to the Obama administration’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba. Rhodes explains that the deep distrust between the countries that had endured for decades began to subside due to two events which he helped engineer. The first was the two countries’ agreement to improve the prison conditions for two prisoners: an American imprisoned by Cuba, the other a Cuban imprisoned by the U.S. The second even “more important signal” sent by Cuba showing its genuine desire to improve relations was their capitulation to Rhodes’ threats that they had better withdraw the permission they had granted Snowden to allow him to pass through Havana once he left the Moscow airport as planned, on his way to Latin America where he intended to seek asylum.

In other words, Rhodes — who has spent years insinuating that Snowden is a Russian spy and traitor given his “choice” to flee to Russia — knew in real time that Snowden never planned to stay even one day in Russia. He had only flown to Moscow from Hong Kong with the intent to immediately fly from Moscow to Havana, and then on to either Ecuador or Bolivia to obtain asylum. Prior to landing in Moscow, Snowden and his representatives had secured a commitment from the Cuban government to allow him safe passage through Havana on his way to South America.

The only reason Snowden is in Russia is because of the actions of Rhodes and his fellow Obama officials to deliberately trap him there: first by invalidating his passport so that he could not board any international flights, and then by threatening the Cuban government that any chance for normalization with the U.S. would be permanently destroyed unless they withdrew their guarantee to Snowden of safe passage through Havana, which they then did. Here’s Rhodes in his own words, boasting about what he regards as his success:

There was one other, more important signal. Around the time of our second meeting, Edward Snowden was stuck in the Moscow airport, trying to find someone who would take him in. Reportedly, he wanted to go to Venezuela, transiting through Havana, but I knew that if the Cubans aided Snowden, any rapprochement between our countries would prove impossible. I pulled Alejandro Castro aside and said I had a message that came from President Obama. I reminded him that the Cubans had said they wanted to give Obama “political space” so that he could take steps to improve relations. “If you take in Snowden,” I said, “that political space will be gone.” I never spoke to the Cubans about this issue again. A few days later, back in Washington, I woke up to a news report: “Former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden got stuck in the transit zone of a Moscow airport because Havana said it would not let him fly from Russia to Cuba, a Russian newspaper reported.” I took it as a message: The Cubans were serious about improving relations.

Could this admission be any clearer? From the very beginning, Obama officials including Rhodes knew that Snowden had not traveled to Russia with the intention of staying there, but instead was — in Rhodes’ own words — “stuck in the Moscow airport” and was “trying to find someone who would take him in.” (Leave aside Rhodes’ other lie that Snowden intended to “go to Venezuela”; the NSA whistleblower’s plan was to travel from Moscow through Havana to Bolivia or Ecuador, but Rhodes, knowing how Americans view Caracas, purposely replaced Venezuela as the intended destination to further impugn Snowden’s motives). Rhodes then tells us how proud he is of himself for having successfully bullied Cuba out of allowing Snowden to fly through Havana as he intended, thus — in Rhodes’ own words — causing “Snowden [to] get stuck in the transit zone of a Moscow airport.”

And yet, countless Obama officials — including, most amazingly, Rhodes himself — have spent years lying to the public by claiming exactly the opposite. Over and over, they impugned Snowden’s patriotism and strongly implied he was a Russian spy and a traitor as evidenced by his “choice” to go to Russia. As but one example, listen to the player embedded below to hear what Rhodes told his fellow former Obama national security official Tommy Vietor in February of 2017, on Vietor’s Pod Save America program (where Rhodes is now also a co-host). For a full hour, Rhodes impugned Snowden’s patriotism and motives, repeatedly citing his choice to flee to Russia as his primary proof (along with the fact that Snowden went to meet with journalists in “China” — by which Rhodes means Hong Kong):

Glenn GreenwaldBen Rhodes Lying on P…

Cause again like, a whistleblower doesn’t conspicuously pass through China to Russia, you know, reporters are always saying ‘Are you telling me that you know that he was working for the Russians?’, or what have you, I’m like, I’m not, I’m telling you what I see, which is this guy went to China and Russia, the two most adversarial intelligence competitors to the United States; he could’ve gone to some very liberal European country that probably would’ve taken him in, or he could have faced the music here; the choice of those destinations speaks volumes.

Does lying get any more flagrant or deliberate than this? Rhodes knows for certain that what he’s saying here about Snowden is an absolute lie. He knows that Snowden did not “choose” Russia as his “destination.” He knows that Snowden did exactly what Rhodes said he should have done: sought refuge in other countries. He knows that the only reason Snowden is in Russia is because Rhodes himself trapped him there by preventing him from leaving. We know that Rhodes knows all of this because he boasted about all of it in his book, in the above-quoted passage. And yet, over and over, Rhodes told the public the exact opposite of what he knew to be the truth.

As indicated, Rhodes was far from alone in knowingly disseminating this lie to the American public. In 2014, Hillary Clinton, in a Guardian interview, condemned Snowden by falsely claiming that he flew from Hong Kong to Russia with the intention of seeking asylum from Putin. Listen to her flagrantly lie:

From the perspective of the twenty-four-hour news cycle, this may not be the timeliest revelation. But it is only within the last several days that I read Rhodes’ book and could barely believe how clearly he laid out his own lies and those of his Obama administration colleagues. This level of conscious lying — spending years implying that Snowden was a traitor or Russian spy because he fled to Russia when you know that he wanted to leave and did everything possible to do so but it was your actions that trapped him there against his wishes — requires an unlimited willingness to lie the moment one’s interests are served by doing so.

We do not usually have a case where the evidence of lying is this conclusive — where it is offered by the liars in the first place — but this behavior is far from uncommon. This is what the National Security State of the U.S. breeds, and it is vital always to remember that when listening to these people speak.

(Our request to Rhodes for comment and an attempt to reconcile with public claims with this passage in his book was not answered at the time of publication; it will be added if one is supplied.)

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