How Edward Snowden became a pawn in international politics

August 7, 2013

(Charles Dharapak/AP)

President Obama has canceled his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The reason? NSA leaker Edward Snowden, whom the Kremlin recently granted temporary asylum.

 

The news ought to be heartening for Snowden — it draws attention to his case and as Obama's decision won't result in Russia sending Snowden back, he can safely rejoice in the White House's mostly symbolic protest.

But the diplomatic snub could also be read as another sign that Snowden is receding into the background of a wider tussle between two powerful countries. Snowden the man has become Snowden the pawn. As my colleague Max Fisher wrote last month, the former intelligence contractor's own priorities appear to have been overridden by forces totally beyond his control:

Snowden seems to have assumed that good people would share both the logic and single-mindedness of his idealism. ... For all his understanding of computer systems and his conviction in Internet freedom, his grasp of the international system to which he has since surrendered his future appears to have been somewhat weaker.

Now that Putin and Obama are formally using Snowden's case as a proxy diplomatic battleground, the 30-year-old has not only lost control over his own future, but the powers capable of deciding that future will be calling the shots according to their interests, not his.

The spat may not affect Snowden in the short-term, because he has already been granted asylum for the next year. But it's ironic that someone who believed so strongly in his ability to change the system is still part of it.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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