Commentary Magazine


Snowden’s Plea: No Consequences, Please

The cheat sheet for charting NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s prospects for escaping accountability is to pay attention to his rhetoric. He began his escapade arrogant, reveling in the attention, the fame, and the praise he was getting from those who love to see America take it on the chin. Then he was defiant, as it became clear he was a wanted man but still had options and a way out of Hong Kong before he could be extradited or cross the authorities.

And then he spoke like a martyr–the typical tone employed by useful idiots upon arriving triumphantly in Moscow. He put out a delusional statement because his treatment as a hero had gone to his head and he seemed no longer to be in touch with reality. But reality would inevitably and quickly get back in touch with Snowden. As Peter Savodnik, author of a forthcoming book on Lee Harvey Oswald’s time in the Soviet Union, writes, “the history of Americans fleeing to Moscow is a long and unhappy one.” Snowden held a meeting with “human rights” officials in Moscow today, where he seemed to acknowledge his predicament and the fact that beggars can’t be choosers:

Edward J. Snowden, the fugitive American intelligence contractor, met with representatives of international human rights organizations at his temporary Moscow airport refuge on Friday afternoon and appealed for their help in seeking asylum status in Russia until he can safely travel to Latin America.

Breaking his silence and seclusion after having spent nearly three weeks in the international transit zone at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, Ms. Snowden told the representatives that “the only way for him to have safety guarantees for temporary stay in Russia is apparently to get an asylum in Russia,” Tanya Lokshina, a Human Rights Watch representative who attended the meeting, said in an e-mail. “So he is asking for one.”

The author of that report, the New York Times’s Ellen Barry, had earlier tweeted that Snowden “says he accepts all offers, present and future.” Three weeks is a long time to spend in an airport. It seems to be a case of life imitating art, as Snowden was initially compared to a Tom Hanks film character who was forced to live in an airport because diplomatic disruptions had suddenly left him with nowhere to go. But the more apt comparison really might be the no-name character in an episode of The Office who wants to have her place in line saved while she goes to the restroom and is rebuffed by Dwight’s “I’m sorry, were you raised in a household with no consequences?”

Where did Snowden get the idea that bypassing the legal framework and the American justice system and giving America’s national-security secrets to dictators and autocrats would–or should–have no consequences? It was only too appropriate that he was helped by the organization Human Rights Watch. (Again, beggars can’t be choosers.) HRW released a daft statement discouraging countries from extraditing Snowden to the U.S.

But the HRW statement shows just how confused Snowden’s advocates are. The group says Snowden should be entitled to lawful whistleblower protections. But Snowden was the one who declined to utilize America’s whistleblower protections and eschewed the legal process that would have afforded him those protections. Additionally, HRW says Snowden is a whistleblower but should be treated as America treats “refugees” and “dissidents” from other countries. So which is it?

That’s not such an easy question to answer, apparently, even for Snowden’s fans. A Quinnipiac poll on Snowden made the rounds this week as journalists claimed it found that, as this NBC report asserted, “More than half of American voters say self-declared NSA leaker Edward Snowden is a whistle-blower not a traitor, according to a poll published Wednesday.” In fact it most certainly did not say that. Here is the question Quinnipiac asked: “Do you regard Edward Snowden, the national security consultant who released information to the media about the phone scanning program, as more of a traitor, or more of a whistle-blower?”

If forced to choose between “whistleblower” and “traitor,” and then qualify each with the poll’s added hedge phrase, just over half said Snowden is kinda sorta more of a whistleblower than a traitor. Not only is this poll question far too limited in its choices, but it’s also based a false premise: Snowden has not been charged with treason. The poll tells us pretty much nothing.

But what the U.S. thinks of Snowden is not as important to him right now as what Vladimir Putin thinks of him. Putin had previously said Snowden could stay in Russia as long as he stopped his fanatic public crusade against the U.S. But Snowden is indicating, once again, that he was raised in a household with no consequences. Ellen Barry tweeted that Snowden’s opinion seems to be that “His work is not meant to damage US, so Putin’s condition is no obstacle.”

Snowden’s toddler’s logic is an insult to Putin, who probably won’t appreciate it. It’s not really up to Snowden to decide whether he already meets the terms Putin offered, and it’s not very bright of him to pretend that his claimed intentions should mean anything to his host. But it’s also an indication that he has no plans to stop leaking damaging information. Those considering granting him asylum will no doubt keep that in mind.

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