In Edward Everett Hale’s short story “The Man Without a Country,” US Army Lt. Philip Nolan, following a court-martial, is exiled from his country, his citizenship snatched away, leaving him doomed to sail the seven seas confined to a Navy vessel, unable to make any country his home. His crime: being seduced by a treacherous leader to betray the US of A, the country of his birth.
Edward Snowden, 30, child of a career Coast Guard officer who signed up in the military after 9-11 to defend his country, later going to work at the CIA and the National Security Agency, was also seduced by treacherous leaders — first President George Bush, and then President Barack Obama–into participating in actions that betrayed his country, actions that breached the First and Fourth Amendments of the US Constitution that as a military officer and later a CIA and NSA employee he had sworn to “uphold and defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic.’
At first glance, we have a case of reality mimicking fiction here, with two once promising young military men being led astray and ending up adrift in a pathetic exile. But in truth, fiction and reality diverge greatly from one another at that point.
Lt. Nolan turns on his homeland and then spends the rest of his misearble life — 55 years — regretting his youthful action.
Snowden, however, gradually woke up to realize he had been deceived by the vile propaganda of a fake “War” on terror, and, in his position at the NSA, came to see that the two men who had been president during his young and impressionable adulthood were shredding the US Constitution, spreading fear among the public in order to be handed the power and the money to build an unimaginably complex and omnipresent secret surveillance program in service to a national security state that was destroying anything to do with real democracy in the United States.
Where some good people, confronted with this awareness, would have quit their job and refused to participate in this treachery, to Snowden, that was not enough. A true patriot, he felt he had a duty to try to put a stop to the destruction and betrayal of his country, and so he took a job with a company, Booz Allen Hamilton, which was working for the NSA in a private contracting capacity, and used his position there to explore and document exactly how pervasive and invasive the NSA’s spying program was. What he discovered was astonishing: The US government under former Constitutional law professor President Obama, is gathering intelligence on the electronic communications of every American citizen. It is moreover, able to access, without a warrant, all emails, phone conversations, web surfing histories and credit card transactions of every American. Beyond that, he found that the US was also spying on hundreds of millions of foreigners, including the citizens of America’s allies in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America–and on the governments and leaders of those nations. Not just that, but he found that the US is the biggest hacker on the planet, breaking into servers in China, Iran, and elsewhere, all the while blasting China of doing the same thing thing to the US.
Angry at the government’s and the president’s hypocrisy and deceit, and at the undermining of the nation’s basic freedoms, Snowden decided he had to act, so he spent several months hacking into the NSA computers using his access as a contract employee with Booz Allen Hamilton, and copied files exposing all those, and other crimes. Then, when he had everything documented, he went, not to some foreign nation, but to several journalists he respected at the Washington Post and at the British newspaper the Guardian, and showed them what he had. He asked them to look over the files, and to decide on their own, what ones were serious enough threats to freedom that they should be made public.
Philip Nolan, the “Man Without a Country,” in the short story we all read in junior high school English class, where it was presented as an object lesson in why we should be patriotic, betrayed his country by joining up with a leader who would have destroyed it. Snowden clearly was and is no traitor.
As Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald has sensibly pointed out to those apologists for Obama and the NSA who are braying for Snowden’s head, calling him a traitor and a spy, if he had been a traitor, there are plenty of countries to whom he could have given information on his computers not about spying on Americans, but on the identities and locations of all of America’s foreign agents, on the code cracking capabilities of NSA computers, and on other top secret aspects of America’s intelligence system that really would impact US security. He has done none of that (though as he has noted, he has such information and has distributed it to people at various locations around the world who are prepared to make it public if the US does anything to harm or “disappear” him. (That’s not treason, that’s called “life insurance.”)
This tells us all we need to know about the motives of President Obama and his henchmen in the government who are conducting a full-court diplomatic press in a desperate attempt to prevent Snowden from obtaining asylum anywhere in the world. The effective barricading of the presidential plane carrying the popularly elected president of Bolivia on a flight home from Russia, and his effective kidnapping in Austria for 13 hours while Austrian authorities, at Washington’s behest, illegally searched his official jet in a vain attempt to locate Snowden, was an extreme case in point. This incident, clearly directed by Washington, constituted an act of war against the state of Bolivia, and has enraged the entire South American continent, putting the US reputation there at a new, perhaps all-time low.
When Snowden, last Friday, held a meeting with global representatives of human rights organizations from his temporary residence in the transfer hall of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, and announced that he was ready to at least temporarily accept an earlier asylum offer from Russia, a panicky Obama phoned Russian President Vladimir Putin, telling him to stop providing Snowden with a “propaganda platform,” and asking that he be either turned over to the US or sent to another country where the US could snatch him. Putin refused. (There is some irony in the fact that by using threats against countries like Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua that have offered Snowden asylum, and by making it clear that he’s willing to bring down planes, even the planes of heads of state, that might be transporting Snowden to safety, Obama has forced Snowden to seek safe haven in Russia — the last place the US intelligence agencies must want him and his secrets-laden computers to end up!)
It seems unlikely that Snowden will have to suffer the fate of Hale’s sad hero, who died at sea, unable ever to find a country to call home. At worst, he will end up in Russia, along with French tax dodger Gérard Depardieu.
Nolan, the fictional “Man Without a Country,” died regretting his onetime betrayal of his country, asking its forgiveness, and requesting that, after his burial at sea, a stone be erected back in his home in Texas, etched with the words: “In Memory of Philip Nolan, Lieutenant in the Army of the United States. He loved his
country as no other man has loved her; but no man deserved less at her hands.”
If the will of the majority of Americans, 55% of whom in the latest poll say that they believe his whistleblowing action was a patriotic defense of freedom, had their way, Snowden would be welcomed home to this country with a parade. Perhaps, if we all act on the information he has given us, and demand the shutdown of the NSA’s domestic spying, a shutdown of the outrageous secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (which is neither a court, nor limited to foreign surveillance!) and the ouster of all those in government, from the president on down, who have orchestrated and defended it, maybe someday Snowden will be able to safely come home to accept that acclaim.
In the meantime, he has his own words for us. On Friday, at his airport meeting with members of the international press, he said:
“I believe in the principle declared at Nuremberg in 1945: ‘Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience. Therefore individual citizens have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring.'”
Accordingly, I did what I believed right and began a campaign to correct this wrongdoing. I did not seek to enrich myself. I did not seek to sell US secrets. I did not partner with any foreign government to guarantee my safety. Instead, I took what I knew to the public, so what affects all of us can be discussed by all of us in the light of day, and I asked the world for justice.
That moral decision to tell the public about spying that affects all of us has been costly, but it was the right thing to do and I have no regrets.”
These are not the words of a traitor. They are the words of a patriot.
Right now the America we all thought we lived in is no more. It is an Orwellian nightmare, a soft fascism that could become hard overnight, at the flick of a switch. In effect, we have all become exiles in need of asylum.
We are all Edward Snowden: Men and women without a country.
DAVE LINDORFF is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).