Monday, July 1, 2013

Snowden's Dilemna

As I write, Edward Snowden is somewhere inside a Moscow airport, perhaps wondering why his experience is so different than that of Tom Hanks in The Terminal. The Fugitive Leaker is in limbo, having applied for asylum to 15 countries, and waiting must really be a bitch.

On Monday, Snowden released a statement. Edward is a bit, shall we say, peeved with the United States. In the statement, Snowden complains about how he is being persecuted by the United States. Specifically, this means having his passport revoked, the filing of criminal charges and the quest to extradite him. Leaking highly sensitive classified intelligence is pretty stressful, it appears.

Reading about this statement made me think about a video that I was shown in a broadcasting class I took at Southern Illinois University. I can't recall which class it was shown in, but I do remember that it was shown in a discussion about journalistic ethics.

The set up for the tape was this: a man had called the local press in some Southern town. The man was fed up with his life and told reporters he was going to light himself on fire in the town square. A local television camera man showed up to cover this story.

The man was an older fellow, and he had some gasoline or some other accelerant in a can. He mumble-ranted his complaints with society which had driven him to immolate himself. As he was talking, he doused himself in the gas. The camera held steady. Then he moved on to the next task, and lit some matches on his leg, still ranting. The camera held steady. And then the man glanced up. The look on his face was one of profound realization - he had actually set himself on fire. It was a look of panic tempered, ever so slightly, by the fact that, after all, it was his own idea.

And the camera still held steady. The man finally got up and ran...and I don't remember if he survived his pyro efforts. What I do remember so strongly was that "What have I gotten myself into" look.

This is the look that I imagine Snowden has right now. Sure, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Take a job with Booz Allen, download scads of confidential material, escape to Hong Kong, leak the material and go public. What possible downside could this plan have?

So he's now in the airport thinking, "What have I gotten myself into?", stuck in international limbo. Just yesterday, Snowden's father tried to set conditions for his son's return to the U.S., which included: 1) he could not be put in jail, and we be out on bail (good idea, he's not a flight risk, is he?), and, 2) Edward would choose where he got tried. Good luck with those demands.

I find myself conflicted about what Snowden has done. On one hand, I thought the Patriot Act might someday lead to precisely the type of abuses that he has shed light upon, and it is good that these things are now out and the open and can be debated. On the other hand, when someone deliberately breaks the law as Snowden has, it's hard to have sympathy for him. Comparisons to Gandhi and Dr. King are laughable -- as I noted to some co-workers a couple of weeks ago, no one remembers Martin Luther King's Letters From A Hong Kong Hotel.

The thing is, Snowden could have leaked this material anonymously, which would have been helpful in evading the U.S. legal system, certainly giving him a head start. But he wanted more -- I don't know if it was accolades or adulation or something else, but for a guy smart enough to infiltrate the deepest recesses of U.S. intelligence, nothing else he has planned seems to be turning out for him so far.

The worst part of it? While he is cult hero amongst some liberals and libertarians, most polls show that the American public isn't all that outraged about this level of surveillance. Perhaps if Snowden would submit to extradition and actually go to trial, he could bring back more focus on the issues he apparently cares for so much. Because, right now, the focus is more on him than anything else.

No comments: