Julian Assange seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth. And Edward Snowden has been awfully quiet lately. Dots are being connected. Assange will be exposed as a Putin flunky soon enough. As if working for Putin’s TV news network wasn’t proof enough. He once brazenly threatened to release documents that would blow the Putin kleptocracy wide open. So he promised dramatically. I remember waiting to see what he released, but the promised day came and went without any document dump. There followed creepy rumors that agents of the FSB (the post-Soviet KGB) had threatened bodily harm and more if those documents were released. Putin takes his privacy very seriously. Assange caved in without any public explanation and was given his own show on RT for being a good boy. His involvement with Putin has increased vastly since then, and he is nothing but a Russian tool now. Hard to tell now if he has been an innocent stoolie for Putin in 2016, dutifully dumping hacked Democratic Party documents provided by the Russian intelligence networks, or if he is still under a Russian gun, no more a free operator than a mafia flunky.
Assange certainly knows after this past week just how incredibly cheap his life is now. Americans would love to offer him protective custody in return for spilling his story. On the other hand, he is completely useless to Putin as an operative anymore. Indeed, it would be best if he were silenced permanently. Assange used to claim that Obama or the CIA were trying to kill him. He’d dramatically duck away from windows (snipers, he said) and peak out from behind curtains, scanning the street and rooftops. He would brag about how Hillary wanted to kill him with a drone. But he is not hiding from the Americans now. He is hiding from Russian assassins, who have worked with impunity in London for decades. He must look at his Ecuadorian benefactors and wonder which of them would be willing to allow an assassin in to poison him. In 1939 Stalin ordered Beria who ordered Pavel Sudoplatov who ordered Nahum Eitingon who ordered Iosif Grigulevich who ordered Ramón Mercader to murder Leon Trotsky. It took more than a year of sneaking and planning and conspiring, but Trotsky was tracked down to a well guarded villa in Mexico City and murdered. Compared with our buffoonish attempts to kill Fidel Castro, it was a slick, professional job, even if it was finally done with an ice pick. Since then, KGB and FSB methods have only improved. A sly jab with an umbrella. Polonium-210 in a cup of tea. Quick and simple and invisibly done. Still, the Russians can take a long, long time before striking. The condemned in Russian prisons never know when the shot will come to the back of the head. Sometimes in days. Sometimes immediately. Sometimes it takes years. Sometimes it never does come. Imagine Julian Assange now. Paranoia must coil through him like ungrounded electricity.
And Edward Snowden? He knows that the way he got into Russia wasn’t exactly the way he told everybody. It was an FSB operation. Dozens of grey suited, gun packing FSB agents swarmed him when he first got off the plane in Moscow, as if taking possession of him bodily. He certainly stopped controlling his own destiny at that point. He’s being held in relative comfort and illusory freedom as an intelligence asset. And he knows that Putin might well have seen everything he took with him from the NSA to Hong Kong. Snowden must know now he blew it when he defected to Russia. That he could have stayed in China, but alas it seemed more likely back then that the Chinese would turn him over to the Americans. That certainly would never happen in Russia. But it turns out that in all likelihood he’d be safe now in China, while in Moscow he is currently at the mercy of Vladimir Putin. Snowden’s life too potentially hangs by a thread. Safe for now, but who knows what direction Russia will go in? Will the purges return? They could. In which case Edward Snowden is certainly a dead man. Remember that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of the 100,000 American workers who had been invited to the Soviet Union with great fanfare in the early years of the Depression were later secretly murdered by the NKVD–predecessor to the KGB and FSB–in the killing fields of the Great Purge. The remainder disappeared into the Gulag. So there is legal precedent for quietly disposing of idealist Americans when that deep seated Russian xenophobic paranoia rears up again. Snowden must be quietly desperate to cut a deal with Obama. Suddenly he is an intelligence asset for the United States. Which means he will never get out of Russia alive. If he stays quiet, though, he could survive. After all, he knows more about American intelligence operations than he does about Russia’s. Assange, though, the man who knew too much, is almost certainly a dead man. Were this a Cold War spy thriller he would be a dead man, anyway. But this isn’t a movie, this is reality. A cold comfort for Julian Assange that must be.