WASHINGTON — Senators from both US political parties on Tuesday urged the Obama administration to take steps forcing Moscow to suffer “consequences” for refusing to hand over NSA leaker Edward Snowden.
Republicans and Democrats are fuming about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision against extraditing Snowden, who leaked information about several of Washington’s most classified anti-terrorism surveillance programs to reporters. And they want Putin and Russia to pay.
John McCain, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, told reporters Putin’s decision should lead Obama to order a “re-evaluation” of Washington’s relationship with Moscow.
“A re-evaluation of every aspect of our relationship with Russia, recognizing that Putin is exactly what he is: an apparatchik KGB colonel that has no interest in the same values and principles that we hold. And he is acting in a more erratic and anti-Western [manner] all the time.
“This harkens back to to the 60s by them saying that Mr. Snowden is not in Russia,” McCain said. “Technically, because he’s in the transit lounge, that’s true. But it’s old Soviet double speak.”
One of McCain’s Senate GOP “Three Amigos” partners, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, facing a re-election fight in that conservative state, delivered a rhetorical elbow to the Obama White House.
“I’m surprised this administration has not figured out Russia,” Graham said. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that Russia is in the hands of an autocrat. Russia’s government has been corrupted. They don’t have a real legislature. The Duma is a rubber stamp. All institutions of democracy have been diminished in Russia.
“When people do that inside their country, they’re generally not inclined to follow the rule of law outside their country,” Graham said. “I’m just amazed that we don’t get what Putin is up to. He’s trying to re-create the old Soviet Union attitude and image.”
The outrage was not limited to Obama’s Republican foreign policy and national security critics.
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., another senior Foreign Relations Committee member, called on Obama to ensure Moscow feels some pain from “consequences” enacted because of the Snowden situation.
“I would think that it does affect our relationship. This is a security issue,” Cardin said. “It is hard to understand Russia’s response. So I expect that will [factor] into the equation of our relationship.”
While Democrats also called for Washington to get tougher with Moscow, they were quick to underscore how important they view US-Russian relations.
“We have a very important relationship with Russia. We have to work together. We want to improve our relationship. That remains true today, even though we don’t understand why Russia didn’t cooperate with us on a matter of homeland security. It will have a consequence.”
The US government has charged Snowden with stealing government property, transmitting national security information without approval and willfully communicating classified data to unauthorized individuals. All violate the US Espionage Act, and could leave Snowden in prison for decades.
But first, another government would have to turn him over to American authorities. Officials in Hong Kong and China opted against doing so, then Putin announced Wednesday he also would not extradite Snowden, who is holed up in a Russian airport.
McCain and others also called on Obama to punish Beijing for allowing Snowden to remain at large.
“What about China? A re-evaluation there, too. Same thing,” McCain said. “A realistic assessment of our relationship with this countries.”
Cardin echoed McCain when asked about what US officials should do about Hong Kong’s and China’s refusal to hand over Snowden: “Same thing about China.”
But Cardin said US officials are still trying to piece together China’s decision, whereas Putin’s is clearly a jab at America.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., struck a calmer tone: “I think the relationship is chilly enough without having to make it chillier.”
Levin said Congress needs to closely examine the role of private contracts — Snowden used his information technology position at Booz Allen Hamilton to access the classified data.
“Congressional oversight can be very effective. It was effective with contractors … relative to the contractors we had in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Levin said. “The Armed Services Committee had an investigation of the role of contractors [in those war zones], and things have changed as a result; we’re a lot less reliant on contractors.”