Forever on the Run
Edward Snowden: A Vagabond Patriot Or Another CIA Target
by Dan Ehrlich
That Edward Snowden has been charged with espionage by the US Government should come as no big surprise in its never ending war against terror. It's a curious conflict where the Patriot Act can supersede the Constitution, yet still can't seem to provide the security the nation needs.
Espionage has long been synonymous with spying for a foreign nation or nations. It usually means people gaining and then passing secret government information from one nation to another. But it can also mean gaining secret information and trying to sell it to the highest bidder.
On the surface Snowden doesn't fit into any category normally associated with espionage...no top secret weapons for sale as in a James Bond film. He simply blew the whistle on a secret US operation, working in concert with the UK government, to monitor the phone calls of people...in essence phone hacking.
The irony here is, after a massive UK government inquiry into phone hacking by the news media, we now find the government is essentially doing the same thing.
This poses the question: Will Lord Leveson be recalled for a new hearing and what does actor/activist Hugh Grant have to say about this new development? Was the UK Government hacking Hacked Off?
More importantly this is another of many examples of America's security failings going back to the 1988 Pan American-Lockerbie bombing. But now we are into an era of cyber terrorism, where a lowly foreign born US Army private can have access to the most secret government documents so he can release them to the public. Appropriately Bradley Manning's conduit to his alleged treason, WikiLeaks, is now apparently assisting a possible new recruit in Snowden.
First, on the surface Snowden isn't a Manning, who ripped off hundreds of thousands of national and international files and messages for a spurious release to the public via WikiLeaks, without any thought to the damage such actions may cause.
Snowden's initial whistle blowing strikes at the very definition of espionage. He apparently did what he did for no personal gain and at the loss of the life he had known with the woman he supposedly loved. We may have to wait until the book comes out until we know the truth about that.
He says he acted as a matter of conscience to inform the public of covert actions their government was carrying out against its citizens. This too is up to speculation.
But, from the folk hero status he has quickly gained in the US, and the semantic ambiguity surrounding present-day espionage activities, it's far from certain he could be convicted in what might inadvertently become a show trial...if there were a trial at all...There's still Guantanamo.
America's does not have secret courts or Star Chambers. A trial of Snowden could bring more embarrassment on the US and UK governments as well a reveal more secrets not for the public's eyes.
On the other hand if he's allowed to remain free it would give him to opportunity to release more sensitive material, if he has any, and possibly enhance his modern day folk hero status: He sacrificed the love of his life for the love of his country.
But there is the more risky third option that may have Snowden looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life. The Obama Administration has shown that a liberal president is just as capable of killing and torturing as right wing presidents. Now that the myth that America doesn't torture or assassinate had been debunked, I wouldn't give odds on his chances in the open.
Yet, all this aside, we may need a new definition of espionage. In a free and open society, as Obama says he wants America to be, do people such as Snowden have a right and even a duty to inform the public of covert actions against them? As people have already pointed out this goes back to Daniel Ellsberg's Pentagon Papers that helped unmask the tragedy of the Vietnam War.
America, which has long pictured itself on a heroic white horse, is the only NATO member frequently involved in geo-political or ideological wars. No conflict the US has been involved in since WW2 was directly related to the nation's survival or security. Even the Iraq War was shown to be launched on grossly false intelligence.
Is it treason to blow the whistle on questionable government conduct? In a democracy, aren't the people suppose to be informed about actions taken in their name for or against them?
Secrecy has long been a trademark of British politics, right down to D Notices telling the media to remain silent on subjects deemed to be of national security. But, America has prided itself on not being like Britain, it's an open society. The press has no obligation to any government. Censorship, if any, is done voluntarily.
Snowden might be seen in that light. He's a guy that grew up in a cyber world where secret information is no longer kept in crypto-vaults, but on computer servers all over the world. It's a serious long-term problem which America, as well as many nations, have yet to fully appreciate and control...the lone rogue patriot who tells all in the public interest, a way to preserve democracy.
One might wonder what was going trough his mind to throw away a decent life and future wife for existence as a vagabond and possible CIA target.