Edward Snowden's Statement to FP on His Selection as a Global Thinker

Edward Snowden, who has become the public face of an international debate over surveillance, tops the list of Foreign Policy's Global Thinkers for 2013. The former National Security Agency contractor who disclosed the inner workings of the U.S. intelligence operations has been living in Russia since June and is currently wanted by U.S. law enforcement authorities and faces charges in federal court. In lieu of attending a reception in Washington on Wednesday for this year's Global Thinkers, Snowden sent the following statement:

It's an honor to address you tonight. I apologize for being unable to attend in person, but I've been having a bit of passport trouble. Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras also regrettably could not accept their invitations. As it turns out, revealing matters of "legitimate concern" nowadays puts you on the list for more than "Global Thinker" awards.

2013 has been an important year for civil society. As we look back on the events of the past year and their implications for the state of surveillance within the United States and around the world, I suspect we will remember this year less for the changes in policies that are sure to come, than for changing our minds. In a single year, people from Indonesia to Indianapolis have come to realize that dragnet surveillance is not a mark of progress, but a problem to be solved.

We've learned that we've allowed technological capabilities to dictate policies and practices, rather than ensuring that our laws and values guide our technological capabilities. And take notice: this awareness, and these sentiments, are held most strongly among the young--those with lifetimes of votes ahead of them.

Even those who may not be persuaded that our surveillance technologies have dangerously outpaced democratic controls should agree that in democracies, surveillance of the public must be debated by the public. No official may decide the limit of our rights in secret.

Today we stand at the crossroads of policy, where parliaments and presidents on every continent are grappling with how to bring meaningful oversight to the darkest corners of our national security bureaucracies. The stakes are high. James Madison warned that our freedoms are most likely to be abridged by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power. I bet my life on the idea that together, in the light of day, we can find a better balance.

I'm grateful to Foreign Policy Magazine and the many others helping to expose those encroachments and to end that silence.

Thank you.


Israel-Palestine Isn't America's Top Mid-East Priority Anymore

The United States may be heavily engaged in shepherding peace talks between Israel and Palestine, but according to Anne Patterson, who has been nominated as the State Department's next top Middle East official, the issue just isn't a top priority for the United States any more.

In an exchange Wednesday with Vali Nasr, the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Patterson chimed in to agree with the former Obama administration official that Israel-Palestine has moved away from its central place in U.S. policy toward the region. "It's certainly not the most urgent problem that we face now in the Middle East, but it's one that could have enormous long term consequences," Patterson said.

Citing the potential security benefits for countries like Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon if Israel and Palestine were to make peace, Patterson argued that more important challenges have emerged in the region, eclipsing that conflict as the focus of American Middle East policy. The conflict, Patterson said, has become a "distraction" at various international bodies, where the United States spends an inordinate amount of time fighting back resolutions seen as anti-Israeli. That work has tarred America's image abroad, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be worth solving for that reason alone, Patterson said at the Transformational Trends conference, an event co-hosted by Foreign Policy and Policy Planning Staff at the U.S. State Department.

Patterson said that she broadly agreed with Nasr's assessment of priorities in the region when he sketched a picture of the Middle East in which developments since the beginning of the Arab Spring have reshaped regional dynamics. "It's good if we make any kind of progress [on Israel-Palestine], but right now, as I said, the future of that region is being written in Syria, to some extent in this discussion of Iran, and when you have a country the size of Egypt it's future somewhat open to question that really is much more important," Nasr said. 

That assessment by Nasr, a former Obama administration Middle East hand, and Patterson comes somewhat in contrast to the stated priorities of the Obama administration and Secretary of State John Kerry, who has engaged in intense personal diplomacy to attempt to broker a peace deal. At the same time, Kerry has also launched a diplomatic offensive to achieve rapprochement with Iran and a solution to the stand off over that country's disputed nuclear program.

An interim nuclear deal reached with Iran last month raised the tantalizing possibility of a diplomatic realignment in the region, of which an Israeli-Palestine peace deal would be one component.  

Dakota Fine for Foreign Policy