The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

What should Edward ‘I’m a brave martyr but I wanna go home’ Snowden do now?

Edward Snowden (The Guardian)
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Edward Snowden’s saga — I hesitated  typing that grandiose term instead of  “pickle that this immature techno-geek with moral autism has made for himself” — is now feeling like the TV series SMASH, which started with a big, respected bang and ended up eliciting wails of: “Please, pull the plug on it already!” Put another way, he’s becoming the Jill Kelley of international whistleblower-dom.

[An update, and an apology, from the author: I wish to retract, to the extent that I can, the idiotic and thoughtless term “moral autism" from this opinion piece — and to profoundly apology to those with autism for the pain and anger my callow, knee-jerk snarkiness may have caused. As someone with beloved family members in that community,  my thoughtlessness is all the more inexcusable. Please accept my apologies.]

Started with a screen-grabbing visual and a stunning bit of news, petered out into someone who keeps trying to revive attention against an onslaught of competing compelling news stories (SCOTUS gay rights decisions, Egypt re-exploding, Asiana crash, Zimmerman trial wind-down and verdict) by ever more look-at-me! measures.

He keeps saying he’s a whistleblower who is sacrificing himself for the  principles of transparency and against our NSA’s spying on its citizens. But he wants freedom from prosecution — to the point of bringing in Daddy to plead his case for full immunity. Besides — though the relevance of this has been hotly debated — collection of cyber data (“spying” on us) is something that Google, Facebook, metro transit passes, credit rating services, political candidates’ pollsters, and every company that roto-announces “This call may be monitored or recorded” when you press the customer-service phone option have been doing for decades. As for countries spying on other countries — that’s hardly a novel offense in the rocky history of nations.

Most disconcertingly, Snowden’s assertions — especially those made through his sponsor/mouthpiece, “journalist” Glenn Greenwald — seem more like threats, even blackmail, than exhortations to the “conversation” about government overreach that he claims to want to start.

“Snowden has enough information to cause harm to the U.S. government in a single minute than any other person has ever had. The U.S. government should be on its knees every day begging that nothing happens to Snowden, because if something does happen to him, all the information will be revealed and it could be its worse nightmare,” Greenwald said the other day, outdoing even his own previous arrogant rhetoric.

Snowden seems to have thought he’d be another Julian Assange — dashing and heralded and able to demand (though not get; filmmaker Alex Gibney turned Assange down) a million dollars for an interview. But he ended up being a bored, frightened guy with four very hot laptops, being offered tricky-to-execute asylum in a series of South American countries that would love to embarrass us almost as much as Vladimir Putin is enjoying it. (While probably wondering: Am I ever going to get rid of this guy?) In a non-public, small, invitation-only (so much for the ideals of transparency) news conference the other day, surrounded by Russian minders  — and thus confounding Russia’s tortured position of neutrality toward him — Snowden repeated his desire for asylum and safety from prosecution, while berating the United States as being unlawful, threatening and intimidating.

Meanwhile, he’s still stuck in that “Moscow airport transit zone” (a meme approaching the annoying out-of-the-blue ubiquity of “fiscal cliff” and “hanging chad”). So: How can he move the ball? What lessons could he, and we, stand to learn? Herewith, from a grab-bag of bits of advice from diverse authorities:


Says Mark Zaid, a Washington D.C., lawyer who routinely represents national security whistleblowers: “The sad story of Edward Snowden is that there are available mechanisms, both routine and innovative, that he could have — indeed should have as the loyal American he claims to be — attempted to utilize before unilaterally deciding to unlawfully disclose classified information. Steps could have been taken to bring to the forefront the concerns he holds regarding allegations of governmental misconduct without him crossing the line of criminality and even while protecting his identity. Unfortunately, his irresponsibility, along with the praise he has received from several past whistleblowers and followers, may have the perverse impact of making it even more difficult for the next generation of national security whistleblowers.”


Film critic and historian Carrie Rickey — who is “really torn between whether Snowden is a traitor or a whistleblower” — believes that  two movies may have, in part, influenced his actions.  Both are about painfully lonely wiretappers. Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974)  and Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s The Lives of Others (2007) .

“Both movies are about the morality of surveillance and the questionable reliability of information harvested — and how listeners can be duped and/or can misinterpret raw data. I would recommend these films to anyone interested in great movies that touch on the issues raised by L’Affaire Snowden.”


Granted, getting out of aforementioned transit zone will not be easy, but here are two out-of-the-box ideas for the desperate.

Astra Woodcraft, who was essentially imprisoned in Scientology’s Sea Organization and who ran for her life, with Scientology guards chasing her through the L.A. airport, is now helping others to — less dramatically — do so. “When I escaped, I  hid out in the women’s restroom until my flight was boarding, and then made a mad dash for the gate, at which point my brother tried to grab my passport and my ticket. So my advice to Snowden is: Don’t be ashamed to hide in the women’s restroom — it might be the last place they look for you.”

Etrella Berosini grew up in a family of longtime Eastern European circus performers. Magicianship and high-wire walking (the latter, her father’s specialty, and her own were learned from childhood). “Circus folks were among the few who could travel freely in old Europe,” she says.The best ploy was a circus trick that some Nazis stole, to sneak out of Germany: She suggests that Snowden “buy a trained bear and a flashy costume. When you’ve got a bear on a leash, no one looks at your face.”

(4) EAT

Snowden seems to have gotten thinner. The borscht from Moscow’s Pushkin Cafe is supposed to be out of this world. Perhaps Anna Chapman, who kiddingly (or not?) proposed marriage to Snowden, will even deliver it.


Longtime journalist Robert Sam Anson knows from heroes. He was at the Ambassador Hotel the night Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. He was friends with former congressman Allard K. Lowenstein, a civil rights and antiwar activist who was shot and killed by a deranged former aide.

And when Anson was taken prisoner while on assignment for Time in Cambodia in 1970, he was rescued by a South Vietnamese Time reporter, Pham Xuan An, who risked his life to save Anson’s.

Anson has Facebook de-friended many an acquaintance “who likens Snowden to Dan Ellsberg, or demands he be granted a full, free, and absolute pardon, or — good God — calls him a ‘hero.'”

Snowden’s father is hurting more than helping him by calling him a modern-day Paul Revere.

Heroes take risks — and whistleblowers agree to accept the consequences of their actions. Snowden is doing neither. Maybe he should have read up on the real heroes before he did this.