For whom is Edward Snowden fighting for these days? Whom is he fighting against? Several weeks ago, when he identified himself as the leaker who disclosed the vast NSA data mining operation, many of us focused on the disclosure itself and its ramifications for the rights of American citizens. Snowden’s revelation triggered a much-needed conversation about the balance between national security and civil liberties.
But then, something bizarre happened to Edward Snowden. Not content with exposing what he and many others believed to be overreach by the United States government with respect to its own citizens, Snowden started leaking information that could pose a very real threat to those same fellow citizens.
What did Snowden believe the CIA, the NSA and other spy agencies do, if not spy on foreign governments and entities, even those we consider our friends and especially those, like China, with whom we have a complicated relationship?
Snowden’s sudden idealism sounds somewhat suspect in light of his career in intelligence.
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As Snowden’s options have continued to narrow, his behavior has been getting more bizarre.
On Monday, he requested political asylum from the Russian Federation, where he has spent the last week ostensibly in a transit terminal at Sheremetyevo airport. Snowden later dropped the asylum request – but because of conditions the Russians placed on him, rather than because of his disgust with Russia’s record of human rights abuses.
Criticizing the behavior of the United States towards its citizens while seeking asylum from a man like Vladimir Putin is so inconsistent as to make everything else Snowden says or does dubious.
Perhaps Snowden has not yet been visited by Russian intelligence officers at Sheremetyevo, but had his asylum request been accepted, he would have lived out his life in Russia by getting to know many of them rather intimately.
Whether he would have liked it or not, he would have had every piece of information squeezed out of him, before being paraded in public to fulfill an agenda for a regime that would have thrown him in prison or a mental institution after a hasty show trial if he had been Russian.
Vladimir Putin, from whom Snowden sought asylum on humanitarian grounds, spent the better part of his youth working his way up through the ranks of the KGB, whose horrific history makes anything this country’s intelligence agencies do pale in comparison.
Perhaps Snowden is under the illusion that with the Soviet Union’s collapse, a different Russia has emerged. But atop that Russia sits a man who was part of a system that oppressed and tortured those who dared to express different political views, who criticized its leadership or who simply had a different religion.
Putin, who still holds Snowden’s fate in his hands as long as Snowden is at Sheremetyevo, has never once disavowed his role in this regime.
The other list of nations from whom Snowden has sought asylum also points to his lack of ideological consistency and increasing desperation.
There are the western democracies like France and Finland, and the repressive regimes, like Cuba and China. Venezuela, where Snowden may be now headed, was ranked as the least democratic state in South America only five years ago.
Snowden’s fight for civil liberties would have more resonance if he were not so obviously focused on saving his own skin at the expense of a specific political ideology.
Edward Snowden should come home. He may feel that he is trapped and has no choice but to seek asylum from nations that continue to torture and imprison its journalists, civil rights leaders and political dissidents.
A choice does exist for him: come back and face the music. Surely, whatever his disgust with the conduct of our government with respect to its citizens, it pales in comparison to what goes on in Putin’s Russia or Castro’s Cuba every day.
Those who love the United States are patriotic enough to criticize it when it does not live up to its ideals.
Conscientious objectors like Martin Luther King or Daniel Ellsberg risked jail time to challenge a system they felt was betraying the principles upon which this nation was built.
Edward Snowden should figure out what cause he is fighting for, other than the salvation of Edward Snowden – and then he should come home and fight for it, whatever the consequences.
Julie Roginsky has extensive experience in government, politics and public relations on both the federal and state levels. She is the president of Comprehensive Communications Group, a public relations and crisis communications firm that counts Fortune 500 corporations, elected officials and non-profit organizations among its clients. Follow her on Twitter @JulieRoginsky.