The 5 Nastiest Things the White House Has Said About Snowden

If there were any doubts as to how President Obama feels about Edward Snowden, he laid them all to rest in a Friday news conference, dismissing the NSA whistleblower as no patriot.

At times, the White House has seemed content to take a back seat in efforts to discredit Snowden, but taken together, the collected statements of Obama and his lieutenants indicate that the administration is no longer happy to watch from the sidelines.

Here is a thematic guide to the Obama administration's war of words in the Snowden saga.

No patriot

With a cutting remark -- "No, I don't think Mr. Snowden was a patriot" -- Obama weighed in on a debate that has roiled Washington: Can Snowden's decision to blow the whistle be squared with his decision to seek refuge in Russia?

For a president steeped in the language and history of the civil rights movement, which made extensive use of civil disobedience and whose leaders frequently broke the law and faced stiff jail sentences, Obama's sense of annoyance at Snowden's decision to leave the country was perhaps not surprising. "If in fact he believes that what he did was right, then like every American citizen he can come here, appear before a court with a lawyer, and make his case," Obama said. That generation of activists often found succor at the federal courts, and Obama's statement serves as an open invitation to Snowden to prove his point. The president here seems to be asking Snowden, If you have such a strong case to make that the Constitution has been violated, why not stay and vindicate yourself before the courts? To do otherwise, Obama contends, would simply be unpatriotic.  

"A 29-year-old hacker"

Prior to Friday, Obama was eager to downplay the entire Snowden saga. "I get why it's a fascinating story," he said during a trip to Senegal in June. "I'm sure there will be a made-for-TV movie somewhere down the line." The implication? Snowden doesn't rise to the level of a real geopolitical concern, and, no, Obama was not going to be exercising real political muscle to extradite him. "No, I am not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker," he told reporters. That he would describe Snowden as a "29-year-old hacker" spoke for itself. This was a man, the president felt, who neither deserved his attention nor merited praise.

"Sideways" reporting

In his Friday press conference, Obama described the revelations surrounding the NSA's activities as "sometimes coming out sideways," a not so subtle dig at the accuracy of the reports. Obama's low profile on the issue has kept him from hitting back at the media outlets reporting the Snowden revelations, but on Friday he made clear that he wasn't happy with their reports. "What we have seen is information come out in dribs and in drabs, sometimes coming out sideways," he said. "Once the information is out, the administration comes in, tries to correct the record, but by that time it's too late or we've moved on. And a general impression has I think taken hold not only among the American public but also around the world that somehow we are out there willy-nilly just sucking in information on everybody and doing what we please with it. Now, that is not the case."

Does the president have a point here? Sure, reports have at times not been crystal clear, but that is the nature of journalism, and if it weren't for the Snowden disclosures, we would never be having a debate about the proper scope of the NSA's powers. That's a price the president has to pay.

Neither human rights activist nor dissident

With Snowden holed up for weeks in the Moscow airport, the world has been transfixed by the question of whether the whistleblower would be granted asylum. That's a debate the Obama administration finds entirely tiresome. "Mr. Snowden is not a human rights activist or a dissident," White House spokesman Jay Carney argued at a July press briefing. "He is accused of leaking classified information, has been charged with three felony counts, and should be returned to the United States, where he will be accorded full due process."


So if Snowden is neither a patriot, a human rights activist, nor a dissident -- labels that he would probably all ascribe to himself -- what is he, according to the Obama administration? In Secretary of State John Kerry's blunt formulation, he might just be a killer. "People may die as a consequence of what this man did," he said in June.

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The New Cocaine War: Peru Overtakes Colombia as World's Top Coca Grower

With the declaration by the United Nations on Thursday that Colombia has reduced its coca crop by 25 percent, meaning Peru has likely passed the country as the world's largest cultivator of coca, Colombians can breathe a sigh of relief. Ravaged by a decades-long civil war in large part funded by that country's massive drug trade, Colombia is now making progress in bringing its conflict with the FARC rebel group to an end.

But success in Colombia far from heralds the end of the drug war, and decreasing production there only illustrates the degree to which the manufacture of drugs -- in particular cocaine -- is shifting globally. Even as the traditional strongholds of cocaine use -- North America and Europe -- witness decreases in the drug's prevalence, cocaine is becoming more popular elsewhere in the world, particularly in Asia and South America. With economies booming and incomes rising, the once-favorite drug of American yuppies is now more accessible to the new upper classes of the developing world.

Welcome to the new cocaine war.

The story of declining coca production in Colombia and its gradual shift to Peru is part of a long-running trend in cocaine manufacturing. Since the 1990s, crackdowns in one Latin American country have pushed production elsewhere. While cocaine production has generally decreased over the past decade, that decline has been centered in Colombia.

New drug-consumption trends are creating something of an altered picture. Though the rate of drug use remains far lower in Asia than elsewhere in the world, drugs, including cocaine, have made remarkable inroads on the continent in recent years. For Latin America's cocaine barons, growing disposable income in Asia has created a potentially lucrative market. In July 2012, for instance, authorities in Hong Kong seized their largest-ever shipment of cocaine, valued at a whopping $98 million.

That trend is mirrored in the United Nations' annual drug report from this year, which documents how the share of global cocaine use is moving away from regions like North America and into other countries:

The prevalence of global cocaine use tells a similar story:

But as methods of making the drug have changed, and as the production and distribution of cocaine have evolved, the drug's customers have changed too. These changes have undermined the widespread perception that cocaine is predominantly a rich man's drug. The United Nations has examined this question and found that in Latin America cocaine use is far less tied to increases in income, which likely reflects the availability of the drug along supply routes and the presence of cheaper versions of the drug. In Europe, meanwhile, higher rates of cocaine use are associated with greater levels of per capita income.

With the cocaine market gradually shifting away from the United States, cartels are now moving into countries like Brazil. With its 5,000-mile border with Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia -- the world's three-largest cocaine producers -- smuggling the drug into Brazil is a relatively easy and lucrative enterprise. From there, the drug either hits the domestic market or is shipped to Africa en route to Europe. Providing 36.8 percent of global cocaine demand, the United States is still far and away the world's largest market for the drug. But Brazil is not far behind, with 17.7 percent of the global market. Though trendlines on cocaine usage are moving the right direction in the United States -- cocaine use has dropped by an estimated two-thirds in 30 years -- drug cartels can still make enormous sums off of moving the drug into the U.S. market.

Colombia's success in decreasing coca production can be largely attributed to its militarized approach to dealing with its cartels and an aggressive eradication program. Politicians in both Colombia and the United States are likely to point to the U.N.'s findings about coca production as an example of the success of the so-called Plan Colombia.

But as cocaine begins to move out of Colombia, other markets are opening up for the drug, ensuring its continued prevalence both in Latin American and elsewhere around the world.