Snowden Screws The Pooch

categories: [Posts, Politics, Intrigue, Foolishness]
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God dammit, Edward Snowden.

“He’s our age,” my confidant said proudly when we first learned Snowden’s name two months ago.

I shared that sense of pride. Snowden’s whistleblowing seemed, at first, so much less fraught than the Bradley Manning’s relatively aimless data dumps.

I’ve always felt that Manning was taken advantage of by the scoundrels and poseurs of the old media (Adrian Lamo) and the new (Julian Assange), who led him on with false promises they knew they could never keep. Manning’s treatment in captivity has been shameful, as has the lack of attention paid to his trial by the U.S. press.

But whatever Daniel Ellsberg says, Manning was no Daniel Ellsberg.

As world-famous 21st Century whistleblowers go, Snowden seemed courageous and considered by comparison. He limited his disclosure to a specific and undeniably troubling program of domestic surveillance. He lent his name and face to the story, which he actually allowed to be vetted before publication by independent journalists, contrary to fashion.


So much for our young-adult feel-good moment. So much for Snowden the brave.

If Snowden obtains asylum in Russia, as he has requested and may or may not receive–the news has gone back and forth on that today–he will throw away any hope that his disclosures might inspire a long-overdue pushback against the unaccountable U.S. national security machine.

By what principle could Snowden possibly justify trading a creeping police state for an unapologetic one? If he does defect–and I’m not sure what else to call it, should he commit to Kremlin protection–he will have single-handedly rolled back the argument on civil liberties to 2002 or thereabouts, when anyone who criticized the spread of war or rejected such abhorrent coinages as “Homeland Security” was branded a traitor and effectively silenced.

I’m certainly not happy about the political situation today, but I am glad that period is behind us. Or was behind us, anyway.

I am also sad to say that if he does accept Russian asylum, Snowden will also lend credence to some nasty stereotypes about Millennials: Namely that they’re unprincipled. Self-centered. Entitled. Unable to stand on their own.

God dammit, Snowden! Don’t be a sucker.

I won’t go so far as to pile on the guy for fleeing prosecution in America. Whatever court he faced would be stacked against him, not least because the laws are stacked against him. America in 2013 isn’t exactly a haven for whistleblowers.

Some argue Snowden should give himself up and accept the consequences. But if the people saying that haven’t themselves faced the possibility of life imprisonment, such advice is worse than worthless: It’s a liberal version of chickenhawkery. (We’re behind you, Gandhi! Wayyy back here…)

I’m comfortable defending Snowden’s decision to flee because, while living and reporting in an NSA base town some years ago, I got to know a few things about the NSA, it employees and the way the agency deals with those who transgress. It will come as a surprise to many of Snowden’s supporters but the NSA, much like the U.S. military, is not staffed exclusively by monsters. Many NSA employees and contractors are as conflicted as Snowden was about the institution they work for, its incredible and dangerous powers, its role in society and their own obligations as citizens.

Spies with a conscience are trapped between their oaths of secrecy and their oaths to the U.S. Constitution. That’s not a fun place to be. I’d venture that their dilemma is a far more grave one than your typical Twitter blowhard or Politico blogger will confront in life.

When his leaks first appeared in the Guardian and the Washington Post, I hoped that more Edward Snowdens would gain the courage to speak up.

I don’t think that’s going to happen now, either.

It’s easy to make fun of Snowden’s head cheerleader, Glenn Greenwald (and I have), especially since Greenwald has all but admitted that he’s far out of his depth on this story. (See this interview in Harper’s in which Greenwald recounts how, through incompetence and laziness, he “almost lost one of the biggest leaks in national-security history.”)

But Greenwald is absolutely correct when talks about “incredibly disturbing, intense climate of fear” around the NSA. The agency, much like the CIA, does not discern a meaningful difference between a well-meaning whistleblower and an enemy. That tendency to persecute its own should give Americans pause, irrespective of the content or circumstances of a given leak.

Anyway, it’s Snowden’s life. Let him run, I say.

It’s the route Snowden has chosen I can’t abide. And it’s probably too late to salvage a positive outcome from this horrible situation.

Maybe there is no acceptable place for Snowden to hide. That’s an even darker train of thought, one that Snowden and his lawyers must surely be grappling with–too late, now.

The fact that he wound up stuck in Russia in the first place shows that his disclosure was not so carefully considered and plotted as I had first imagined it to be. His conduct while in airport limbo been much harder to forgive, causing myself and a lot of other Americans to doubt his motivations.

It would’ve been one thing had the Moscow airport been a waypoint to some more gently authoritarian tropical destination. Maybe Snowden’s great escape will still turn out that way, in which case, he will have proven that he has the Favor of the Gods upon him, and I will have to withdraw my criticisms. But right now I don’t see how he takes back that statement praising Vladimir Putin, of all people, for his “stand against human rights violations” and his “refus[al] to compromise…in the face of intimidation.” (A forgery, you say? Without evidence, that is pure wishful thinking.)

Yeah, so Snowden is my age, give or take. I’m not feeling so satisfied about that part of the story anymore.

Matt Bors is right, up to a point, when he argues that “Millenials aren’t lazy: They’re fucked.” But this generation’s attempts at protest and dissent are looking pretty half-assed as of July, 2013. And some of us are over 30 now.