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The Odyssey of Edward Snowden

Caricature of Steve

If you think Edward Snowden is an American hero, raise your hand.

If you think Edward Snowden is an American traitor, raise your hand.

I thought so.

If you think Edward Snowden should be arrested and extradited back to the United States, raise your hand?

If you think Edward Snowden should be allowed to remain in exile in Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Cuba, Ecuador (or wherever), raise your hand?

I thought so.

As anyone who is not glued to the latest news about  the Kardashian family or Kate Middleton’s pregnancy knows, Snowden is the former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and National Security Administration (NSA) who revealed that  NSA was engaged in massive surveillance of United States and European telephone and data records.

After Snowden leaked news of the electronic spying, the resulting uproar was equally passionate along the ideological continuum from CBS Correspondent Bob Schieffer to  Pentagon Papers author Daniel Ellsberg.  Fearing arrest, Snowden fled Hawaii in May and his odyssey to date includes stops in Hong Kong and Moscow.  With pledges from Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela for asylum,  don’t expect him to set foot on American soil anytime soon.

I have mixed views about this case.  As a journalist I support open records and full access to information collected by local, state and federal governments.  After all, the government represents us and we should know what our public servants are doing and the information on which they base their actions.

On the other hand, I recognize fully the need for certain information critical to our national security to be kept confidential.  The challenge, of course, is who determines what that information is and how do we know we can trust the persons who make those decisions?

Should Washington be collecting massive amounts of personal information about us?  Is sacrificing a degree of our personal privacy a fair exchange for national defense?

I’ve stated elsewhere that I have nothing to hide so Uncle Sam can spy on me all he wants.  However, I certainly understand the concern of other–equally honest residents–about unlimited and unrestrained snooping.    And I concede the risks of how that information may be used

Thanks to Mr. Snowden–and subsequent news reports based on his revelations–we now have a much better idea of the scope of  federal surveillance.

I don’t know whether he did us a favor or not.  I am convinced, however, that he’s the stereotypical intelligent loner.  A man of strong intellect, but weak social skills. Someone desperately seeking attention and validation.

Wherever Snowden finally lands, I suspect that he’ll wake up one morning and realize the irony of his actions.  He leaked information from a democratic government because he believed that U.S. citizens should know about Washington’s spying.  In the aftermath, he left a free society for temporary residence in an oppressive one.   In his eventual choice of exile he will be less free under the watchful eye of his alleged benefactors.  He’ll look out his window and realize that’s he’s not in Hawaii anymore and his new life sure isn’t paradise.

Was restricted freedom in an undemocratic society  worth the price?  Did Mr. Snowden lose more than he gained?  Only he can answer that question.  But I suspect that in his heart-of-hearts regret someday is inevitable.

Steve Coon

July 08, 2013

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