Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Sacrifice of Edward Snowden (In the Category of Be Where You Are.) [#52Weeks]

I think it’s safe to say that things are not going exactly as Edward Snowden had hoped when he revealed that America’s top spy agency spies ... on everyone ... everywhere ... around the world. I don't understand what he hoped to accomplish when he broke the terms of his employment contract, a job he apparently accepted for the sole purpose of stealing classified information. He clearly didn’t anticipate having his passport revoked. I guess he assumed our government would be okay with him traipsing off to wherever he pleased with stolen laptops full of top secret information in his backpack. Perhaps he envisioned a multi-continent chase worthy of a Brad Thor novel where he cleverly eludes top government agents again and again, cackling gleefully at the thought of making fools out of his former employers. Perhaps he believed that public outrage over the revelation that our spies actually spy would protect him from prosecution. Maybe he believed the American people would stand up as one, carrying him on their shoulders, holding him up as a new icon of freedom – a brave voice in the fight for privacy.

I’d wager good money he did NOT expect to be stuck at the Moscow Airport. It’s a limbo worse than hell, like the punishment of Tantalus. Imagine the frustration he must feel to be in a place where so many people come and go day and night, and he has no recourse to do the same. The roar of the departures and arrivals lulls him to sleep in a chair designed to prohibit one from lying down. Daily he must face the reality of nothing but airport food to eat, airport facilities to freshen up in, rows of televisions with no remotes – endless CNN and TWC, or their Russian equivalents, and no ability to change the channel. How often is it his face on the screen?

When he makes it back to the USA to stand trial for espionage, I think a halfway decent lawyer could possibly persuade a judge to let the time spent in the Moscow Airport be applied as time served. I’d have no qualms with this. I’ve been stuck at an airport before (because of weather), and it really sucks. I doubt it will make much of a dent in the life sentence he’s bound to receive, but it would be a friendly gesture. In the meantime, his choices for where to seek asylum fascinate me. Most of his early picks have been countries with notoriously bad track records for respecting human rights or privacy. (This Vanity Fair piece about Eddie’s global “hypocrisy tour” is a good read.)

I’m flummoxed, really. Our NSA may be spy-crazy, but surely Snowden’s heard about China’s position on privacy and free speech for its people? And Russia’s? He knows about Pussy Riot, doesn’t he? Average citizens of both of those countries would probably challenge Snowden’s assertion that they share with him, “...a basic right. A right that belongs to everybody. The right to seek asylum.” Venezuela’s looking like a promising refuge as I write this. That country’s human rights track record is also pretty abysmal, but the presidential jet is already at the Moscow Airport, which is handy. Snowden’s message to us all must be this then: It is better to sacrifice your way of life and live in exile in an oppressive totalitarian state than put up with the government tracking your phone call habits at home. Wait a minute. How’s that?

Either Snowden did this for the greater good and really thinks he can garner sympathy from Americans by cozying up to the countries, repressive or otherwise, that blatantly dislike us, or he had his own reasons for deliberately taking a job so he could steal classified information -- reasons that have nothing to do with protecting the civil liberties of America. We may never know. Mr. Snowden has sacrificed much for his principles, but he is now a man compromised. Eddie has nowhere to go and no way to get there. His credibility is shot; he has lost a chance at whatever life he dreamed for himself. He lambasts the Obama administration for, “using citizenship as a weapon,” but isn’t it interesting how he had already decided he could not be treated fairly here and fled the country before he fenced his stolen goods to the Guardian? He never gave his country the chance. As far as I’m concerned, his “extralegal penalty of exile” is self-imposed.

I can’t help feeling that Eddie Snowden’s sacrifices have been for naught. The outrage he counted on when he leaked the PRISM information has pretty much failed to materialize (well, except with our EU allies who have demanded an explanation). I’ve already given my opinion of the folks who actually believe they have privacy in this or any country, and apparently I am not alone in my attitude of “yeah, so what?” Even if the NSA and our government went on record to say they are never ever ever again going to spy on us or our allies inappropriately, I would assume otherwise.

Look, I’m not saying I like the idea of all this data mining. I actually hate like hell that my government feels it’s needed. I hate like hell that I feel it’s needed; the September 11 attacks changed me that way. I don’t know that this spying actually makes us any safer as a country, but I feel pretty confident that doing nothing is the wrong approach. Spying on our allies may seem unnecessary, but you can’t tell me they aren’t spying on us too; I won’t believe you. Nations have played the game of Spy vs. Spy for longer than America has existed. That isn’t going to change.
Spy vs. Spy was created by Antionio Prohías, who fled Cuba to the United States in 1961 after being threatened for lampooning Fidel Castro.
I’m sure Snowden will get out of the Moscow Airport eventually, but it’s likely a less odious place to be than a Russian Gulag or a Chinese labor camp. Without ever having been in either, I can’t say how the Moscow Airport stacks up against a US prison. But at least in a US prison, Snowden has a shot at being allowed to change the channel on the TV.

No comments:

Post a Comment