A fool, not a spy
June 21, 2013
It would make things so much easier for everyone if Edward Snowden were working for China.
And that's certainly a possibility. His decision to flee to Hong Kong — a Chinese vassal — was an odd one, given that China is hardly a bulwark of transparency and civil rights. It's a bit like complaining that Boston is too Catholic and then moving to Vatican City in protest.
Then there's the nature of the crime itself. Informed sources I've spoken with are generally aghast by what they say is the scope of information Snowden stole, material some believe he couldn't have gotten by himself. That doesn't mean he's the Manchurian IT Guy, but it does cause some to wonder whether he had help.
Last, there's the nature of the disclosures. The initial story broke at precisely the moment President Obama was meeting with the new Chinese president, undermining Obama's effort to press the issue of Chinese hacking. Soon thereafter, Snowden went from "whistleblowing" on alleged domestic data-mining abuses to leaking embarrassing information.
It's one thing for an American to claim it's his patriotic duty to expose a breach of trust with the American people. It's another thing entirely for an American to unilaterally decide what foreign espionage America or its allies should or should not be doing, and then divulge the bits he doesn't like. We elect a president and a Congress to make that kind of decision.
It's plausible that Snowden was dismayed to discover that the NSA was monitoring Americans on U.S. soil. Are we really to believe, though, that he was shocked that the NSA was monitoring foreigners on foreign soil? That's what the NSA does.
Still, the Chinese dupe theory depends on an enormous number of assumptions, starting with the notion that the Chinese are that sophisticated.
An easier explanation is that Snowden is a fool. I don't mean he's stupid. No, when I say he may be a fool, I mean he may be a fool for love — love of an idea. When you look back on the various spies and turncoats in U.S. history, many acted out of a foolish loyalty to an idea. The most obvious examples are the many communists who betrayed America during the Cold War. Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs weren't Russian nationalists at heart. They were fools for communism.
One thing that comes through in Snowden's remarks so far is his affection for a set of ideals that transcends nations. He claims he did what he did to protect the "Internet freedom and basic liberties of people around the world."
In short, it looks like he sees himself as a digital-era Diogenes. Like Diogenes, he sees himself as a citizen of no place, save a citizen of the (cyber) world.
Email Goldberg at goldbergcolumn @gmail.com