What are we to make of Edward Snowden?
I know what I once made of him. He was no real whistleblower, I wrote, but “ridiculously cinematic” and “narcissistic” as well. As time has proved, my judgments were just plain wrong. Whatever Snowden is, he is curiously modest and has bent over backward to ensure that the information he has divulged has done as little damage as possible. As a “traitor” he lacks the requisite intent and menace.
But traitor is what Snowden has been roundly called. Harry Reid: “I think Snowden is a traitor.” John Boehner: “He's a traitor.” Rep. Peter King: “This guy is a traitor, he's a defector.” And Dick Cheney not only denounced Snowden as a “traitor” but suggested that he might have shared information with the Chinese. This innuendo, as with Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, is more proof of Cheney's unerring determination to be cosmically wrong.
The early denunciations of Snowden now seem both over the top and beside the point. If he is traitor, then which side did he betray and to whom does he now owe allegiance?
Benedict Arnold, America's most famous traitor, sold out to the British during the Revolutionary War and wound up a general in George III's army. Snowden seems to have sold out to no one. In fact, a knowledgeable source says that Snowden has not even sold his life story and has rebuffed offers of cash for interviews. Maybe his most un-American act is passing up a chance at easy money. Someone ought to look into this.
Snowden's residency in Russia has been forced upon him — he had nowhere else to go. Those people who insist he should come home and go to jail lack a healthy regard for the rigors of imprisonment. After a while it can be no fun.
Snowden insists that neither the Russians nor, before them, the Chinese have gotten their grubby hands on his top secret material, and indeed, this fits with his MO. He has been careful with his info, doling it out to responsible news organizations — the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Guardian, etc. — and not tossing it up in the air, WikiLeaks style, and echoing the silly mantra “Information wants to be free.”