Or will it be the opposite – freedom and back to US again?
I stopped going to the cinema long ago. Not because I ceased to enjoy movies but because I became too lethargic to take that extra effort to go to a cinema to watch one. But long flights help me catch up on what I may have missed.
So it was during my recent visit to San Francisco when I got to watch a few films, including the one on Oliver Stone’s Edward Snowden, the American computer professional who was made to run from one country to another on serious charges of espionage.
The Obama administration thought he betrayed the country by releasing “classified information” he was privy to during his employment with the CIA. His hops came to a halt with Russia giving him refuge in 2014. He still lives there.
Whistleblower or Traitor?
I will leave it to the U.S. to decide whether he was a traitor whose revelations compromised the country’s interests or a mere whistleblower who found the surveillance programmes of his home country an infringement of individual privacy.
This post is not a review of the Snowden movie either.
Why Become a Fugitive?
The Snowden saga has merely left me wondering why he became a fugitive if he believed he acted according to his conscience. If the U.S. is indeed a country where individual freedom of expression is valued, couldn’t he have stayed back and fought the charges against him?
But then espionage is a serious crime and anyone facing such allegations can be in deep trouble. Just as Bradley Manning, a U.S. Army soldier, found out, having been sentenced to 35 years in prison in July 2013 for giving away sensitive documents to WikiLeaks.
Bradley, who had become a transgender woman with the name Chelsea Manning, can, however, look forward to an early release with good prison behaviour. There is the instance of John Kiriakou, a CIA analyst who was given a 30-year in January 2013 for leak of information to a journalist but was released in February 2015.
So, should Snowden have fled? Could he have expected the same level of support from Americans who have rallied together in protest against the immigration curbs imposed by Trump? But then conjectures don’t help and he may have feared torture in a CIA prison.
Yahoo Mail Hacking
The revelations by Snowden included how even ordinary citizens were being snooped on and their privacy intruded into. The world knows how the emails of those with Yahoo accounts were compromised through a massive hacking, something he had cautioned people about.
Snooping is all fine as long as it stays within the realm of ensuring national security.
Snowden and Fischer
Snowden is not the only American to be harassed by the U.S. Bobby Fischer, the greatest chess player ever and my idol, was also hounded by the U.S. for travelling to Yugoslavia, defying a U.N. ban. He ended up giving up his American citizenship and settling down in Iceland where he died in 2008.
With Trump enjoying a close rapport with Russian President Vladmir Putin, I guess Snowden may be living a nervous life there. Should Trump ask for Snowden’s extradition to the U.S., will Putin comply? Or will Snowden be able to return to the U.S. and escape any stringent punitive action? Any responses to these question will merely be speculative at this juncture.
Assange, WikiLeaks and High Moral Ground
Another popular whistleblower, Julian Assange, an Australian computer programmer who founded WikiLeaks, has also run afoul of the law in the West.
Ecuador gave him asylum and he is living within its embassy in London for the last few years as any effort to leave will see him arrested. His life and times have also been made as Hollywood films, including Underground: The Julian Assange Story and The Fifth Estate.
Taking high moral ground on individual freedom and democratic values is one thing, and living up to it is quite another, notwithstanding the irony and hypocrisy inherent in actions that may run counter to established democratic norms.
G Joslin Vethakumar