Of all the people who gasped as Donald Trump took the lead on November 8, there are few who would have been quite as breathless as Edward Snowden, a man who might well have been nervously watching the construction of his own guillotine.
Since that day, lawyers for the former US intelligence-community whistleblower have been banging on Barack Obama’s door begging for a pardon before it’s too late, President elect Trump already having made plain his preference for the “traitor” to be executed. With the departing President unlikely to play ball, January 20, the date of Trump’s inauguration, might also be doomsday for Ned.
The noose is already tightening. Last week, Snowden, who has been snuggled up in some secret hiding place in Russia since 2013, was aghast to learn his request for a guarantee of safe passage to Norway was denied. He was to be presented with a “freedom of expression" award in Oslo, but has instead been delivered a clear message that the world is deserting him — after being told to get lost by no less than 21 countries with whom he had sought asylum, Edward is having to face the unhappy fact that his only friend in the diplomatic world is Vlad Putin, and that’s a worry.
If the US and Russia are as Montague and Capulet, then Trump and Putin are undoubtedly Romeo and Juliet, the pair having been caught in compromising positions and fiscal embraces for years. That relationship is now getting hot and heavy, thanks in part to Donald’s naivety, political or otherwise.
Donald Trump has surely lived out most of the daydreams of his youth — billionaire, babe magnet, TV star, king — but there are, no doubt, still a few boyhood bucketlist fancies that haven’t yet come to fruition, their stubborn refusal to emerge from the realm of mere childish whimsy bugging him like the original itch. It’s probably too late for him to find any responsible reason to play-act as a fireman (it also requires a modicum of bravery), but a policeman … that’s still possible. If Donald can get Edward Snowden in bracelets, like Obama and the whole damn law-enforcement community has thus far failed to do, he’ll be up there with J. Edgar Hoover and Elliot Ness in the chronicles of American detective history. Make no mistake; as Donald Trump stalks back into the White House from his inauguration ceremony, Snowdon’s name will be on that “things to do” list that’s Blu-Tacked to the desk in the Oval Office.
Putin is certainly ready to parley with Trump and, right now, would be cataloguing his bargaining chips. Snowden must surely be on his list, too.
Having worked at a high-clearance level in US intelligence, Edward Snowdon would know only too well that, should Trump and Putin come to an agreement, there’ll be nowhere on this Earth he can hide, and that surrender will be the better of two options (‘disappearance’, the other).
No matter what your position — whether you regard Snowden as a hero or a traitor — it’s hard not to feel sorry for the poor boob, who acted not out of greed or lust for fame, but undoubtedly upon his ideological conscience. At the same time, there seems in Snowden (and, to perhaps an even greater extent, Chelsea Manning) a touch of what ailed Michael Jackson; innocence curdled to ignorance, a faith in humanity so naïve as to be flat-out dangerous.
Just as Jackson should have known better than to believe filling his bed with naked boys was simply “sweet”, Edward Snowden, raised in a family of spooks, must have known his chosen career would be filled with depressing realisations. Did he really expect to discover that America did indeed only spy on ‘the bad guys’? Even a drunk in the pub will tell you the CIA is watching every sip you take. Are we expected to believe that the same guy who, on a chat forum in 2009, expressed his opinion that leakers of national intelligence “should be shot in the balls” suddenly came over all Macaulay Culkin when he found that America plays dirty too?
Edward Snowden is a traitor just as surely as he is a martyr — whether his virtues as the latter will temper his punishment for being the former remains to be seen. Only yesterday came reports that some of the most respected US intelligence experts have lobbied Obama to end Snowden’s “untenable exile in Russia, which benefits nobody”.
In KGB: The Inside Story of its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev, Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky (himself a defector) reveal that spooks in the KGB had a motto during the post-war years: “Guess right, suck up, survive.”
So far, Snowden’s guesses have been right; his radar for journalists he can trust has been spot on, and his instinct on when to move has kept him one step ahead of his pursuers. He has adequately sucked up to Putin — even making the odd propaganda appearance — but his survival now depends on matters well out of his control.
As of January 20, 2017, he’s out of time.