(WTNH) Well, that didn’t take long. Not even two-years since going on the lam after releasing thousands of classified documents about the U.S. government’s mass surveillance program, Edward Snowden is saying through his lawyer that he wants to come back and — conditionally — face the music.
My purpose here is not to judge the rightness or wrongness of what Snowden did. To many, he’s a hero; to others, including the Obama Administration, he’s a flat-out traitor. Feel free to express your thoughts below. What’s interesting to me is how the urge to “come home” eventually, and in Snowden’s case rather quickly, trumps the fugitive lifestyle and mindset, even when serious consequences, such as certain arrest, shackles, and lengthy imprisonment await.
According to early feelers being sent out from Snowden’s Russian attorney, the 31-year-old former NSA contractor is trying to at least avoid the most serious consequence: the death penalty. Anatoly Kucherena said yesterday Snowden wants guarantees of a “fair trial,” and to avoid being prosecuted under the World War I-era Espionage Act. But even if he were found guilty of lesser charges of stealing government property, he would face up to 30-years in prison.
Not having been in the same situation — and not ever expecting to be — I have trouble grasping the dilemma. Freedom anywhere would have to be better than decades of hard time in a supermax federal prison. Wouldn’t it?
It has to be what Snowden was thinking we he took Russia up on its offer of a 3-year asylum. He was cocky about it in the early days, saying he did what he did to serve his country, and was prepared to accept his fate “whether amnesty or clemency ever becomes a possibility.” What could have changed his thinking so soon?
Well, for one thing maybe, Russia. When the only country that grants a secret-stealer asylum is one of the most secretive and corrupt governments on Earth, one increasingly on a collision course with American interests, that’s probably not going to work out. I’m guessing Snowden, who lives in Moscow with his American girlfriend, is under constant surveillance and perhaps extreme coercion to share more of what he knows, except this time not via The New York Times. Even for the strongest soul, paranoia would begin to strike deep. Maybe if he could live out his days in, I don’t know, Brussels or someplace, it would be different. But maybe not.
Since few of us will ever lead the lives of international fugitives, let’s hear from one who did: Nick Leeson, the rogue British trader who brought down Barings Bank before lighting out for Malaysia, Thailand, and Germany. He came back after just 11-months, to a six-year prison sentence. I’ll close with his speculations, in a 2013 first-person article for The Independent, about what Snowden might have been experiencing after going on the run:
“He is living on his nerves, trying desperately to work out what his options are and make the right decisions. His position has so many imponderables….wherever he turns, (he) will see his face staring back at him. Everyone will be whispering in corners and the paranoia that everyone is talking about him will be raging through his mind.
“In time, he’ll be looking for clarity and confidence in what the future holds…but closure of this episode will bring with it a point from which he can move forward.”
I think Edward Snowden has reached that point.