It was evident from the very beginning that Mr. Edward Snowden, the man who revealed highly classified national security information to The Guardian and to the world, would be a hero to some, a villain to others.
And the characterization of Snowden, as either a hero or a villain has been — for a change — bipartisan.
Conservative television host Glenn Beck and liberal filmmaker Michael Moore both praised Snowden, calling him a “hero.”
Others, both Republicans and Democrats, have called Snowden a felon, a traitor, and worse.
Jeffrey Toobin at The New Yorker, referring to how many are hailing Snowdon as a hero and a whistle-blower, says, “He is, rather, a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison.”
While I believe that Snowdon has broken the law and a sacred trust — regardless of his motives — and that if convicted he should be punished according to our laws, what we call him is not as important as what he has done.
And what he has done truly puzzles me.
He has been called extremely intelligent — and that he appears to be.
He has been called “patriotic” — and that, in my opinion, is debatable.
He has been called truthful, honest — and that needs to be ascertained.
But it is the incongruity of these traits, allegedly possessed by Snowden, with his recent actions that have me puzzled and disturbed.
Let me explain.
If Snowden is brilliant enough to know the ins-and-outs of our nation’s most sensitive surveillance programs and if — as he claims — he could shut the entire system in an afternoon if he wanted to and if he “had full access to the full rosters of everyone working at the NSA, the entire intelligence community, and undercover assets all around the world,” how patriotic, how intelligent is it for him with this mass of knowledge of our most sensitive programs and assets to make his presence known in Hong Kong, where China — or any other country or party with unfriendly designs towards the United States — could whisk him off and in a Chinese water-boarding minute extract such wealth of information out of him?
A strange and volatile mixture of brilliancy, honesty and patriotism, if you ask me.
Toobin puts it this way:
Snowden fled to Hong Kong when he knew publication of his leaks was imminent. In his interview, he said he went there because “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent.” This may be true, in some limited way, but the overriding fact is that Hong Kong is part of China, which is, as Snowden knows, a stalwart adversary of the United States in intelligence matters. (Evan Osnos has more on that.) Snowden is now at the mercy of the Chinese leaders who run Hong Kong. As a result, all of Snowden’s secrets may wind up in the hands of the Chinese government—which has no commitment at all to free speech or the right to political dissent. And that makes Snowden a hero?
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The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.