Edward Snowden’s flight from Hong Kong, with what looks like the tacit support of the government there, is taking on the air of a Hollywood drama. It almost reminds me of the recent film Argo, except in this case, the U.S. authorities are playing the role of the clunky, repressive security state. In this iteration, they are pursuing Edward Snowden, the former NSA-employee who exposed the extent of illicit intrusion by the U.S. government into the lives of its citizens, revealed the bald-faced lies spouted by intelligence personnel to Congress, and illuminated the half-heartedness of that body’s efforts to exert control over a national security apparatus, the efforts of which looks increasingly bloody-minded, anti-democratic, and counter-productive.
Right-wingers like John McCain and Dianne Feinstein have been joined in parroting the condemnations of Snowden by progressives like Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. The former accused China and Vladimir Putin of aiding Snowden’s escape (imagine, countries that the U.S. seeks to spy on and undermine not bending over backwards to do Washington’s bidding!), and Pelosi bleated pathetically about security outweighing public interest.
At the Lusaka Backpackers, those of us working from home on Sunday have been following Snowden’s movements live throughout the day, online when possible, and on the radio when the internet connection goes on the blink. And I’m not ashamed to admit that our little party gave a cheer when we heard that Ecuadorean embassy vehicles were sighted at the Moscow airport.
Undoubtedly, there are those who would see our cheering the whistleblower as irresponsible and unpatriotic, but I’d say that’s the problem of the administration and Congress which have brought deserved opprobrium on its own head through their contempt for both public and process. Snowden risked a great deal to expose the machinations of his former masters, and the idea that his service to the public should expose him to American injustice seems wrong.
At the end of the day, it might have been ideal if Snowden had come to the U.S. and defended himself publicly, further exposing the shambles of our national security state. On the other, it’s easy for a third party to ask him to yield himself up to the kind of treatment meted out to Bradley Manning and other whistleblowers—treatment which makes a mockery of the public interest—when he’s already been forced to leave his home, his family, and the life that he knew.
I think I speak for most of this group of international travellers, researchers, and Zambians when I say that I hope Snowden arrives safely in a country where people and governments have a bit stronger sense of the public good and of the importance of transparency and accountability.