Snowden’s legacy will be left to history. But what does his embrace by the liberal left say about them? The case of Edward Snowden can be summarised in two words: indulgent irresponsibility. The words of Jack Straw hint at contempt for a man who has in the past 18 months done a tour of the world, globetrotting countries with some of the most brutal governments on the planet, finishing his trip in Russia. His current location is perfectly hospitable to those in control of American secrets. However, for those who disagree with the Russian government, the shadows descend and silence is enforced. Is it not awkward for those among the liberal left to cite Snowden as a hero but to also accept that his residing in Russia elevates that government’s standing above the depths to which they deserve to be condemned?
The Snowden saga has led to many absurd reactions. This week, he received the Sam Adams award for Integrity: he joins the illustrious and utterly scrupulous company of Julian Assange in the hall of fame. Most importantly, the saga has led to the curious spectacle of Western liberals defending a ‘refugee’ seeking political asylum from a government with no record of tolerating dissent, homosexuality or political opposition. The belief he wouldn’t receive a free trial in the United States stems from a lack of faith in the US free press and the separate, impartial judiciary. I would argue he is just unwilling to be punished for a crime he deems legitimate.
I can respect those who think the post 9/11 security apparatus went too far; in certain areas I would agree but the globetrotting by Snowden merely demonstrates the shallowness of our criticisms of the current intelligence setup. As Nick Cohen put it: “Edward Snowden cannot endorse regimes whose human rights’ records are worse than the record of the United States and expect to win the argument”. Instead of trying to improve his country’s laws, he dropped a grenade and ran. As Martin Luther King wrote: “One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty; I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law”.
It’s become painfully apparent that Snowden believed the betterment of society in the United States and the West could only be achieved through the damaging leaking of secrets. If you subscribe to the notion that this was civil disobedience, you must answer this question: why was he so unwilling to suffer the consequences of his actions? Rather, I would suggest they were the actions of a man who sought fame from sabotage: glory, from undermining security services.