We Still Produce Them

Copyright © by Len Holman, 6/17/13


  A young man, 29 years old, has thrown the intelligence community, the political establishment, and the social punditocracy, into frenzy.  He was a contractor for the CIA (some estimates are that about half of the CIA’s hired help is contracted out).  Edward Snowden is apparently holed up somewhere in the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong, a keeper of many secrets, purveyor of newspaper bombshells, ringer of that tocsin in the night.  He has made explicit what the jaded, the knowledgeable, and the weary-of-it-all have known or suspected for many a year: we are being watched (Orwell’s “1984” is flying off Amazon’s shelves). 

  Everyone who can get a cameo on CNN or Fox or some other media screen is outraged, concerned, flummoxed, and smugly confident this will be a GOP windfall in the next elections (it’s always about the next election, isn’t it?).  He is being called a traitor, a hero, a pawn in the Chinese world-game, and a self-aggrandizing youngster with delusions of grandeur.  There are polls which ask participants to “vote” on whether he is a hero or a villain.  There are intelligence officials, in uniform and out, who claim, before various congressional committees, that data mining and massive information-gathering have prevented several potential terrorist actions.  There is Congressman King from New York, who insists that the Guardian newspaper, and any other newspaper, be prosecuted for aiding and abetting our enemies (Jefferson must be twitching madly in his grave)! 

  Through it all we seem unable to get enough commentary on this, as if it were the very Staff of Life—which it is, if you make your living reporting on the reporting.  There is a worried speculation from the cheap seats (and some not so cheap) that Edward Snowden will tell the Chinese or the Russians or SOMEONE) what we are doing and who we are doing it to and how we are doing it.  As if they didn’t already know.  Snowden is going to turn our highly secret, sophisticated peeking and listening into public knowledge—which he has repeatedly said is what he wants to do. 

  I wonder, if he doesn’t get on a plane and fly to Washington, how long it will be before a Special Ops team plucks him from his safe house in an arrogant snub to international convention and law, or the Chinese pick him up and extradite him back to the States (thus taking a little heat off themselves for all the hacking of the U.S. they do).  There IS one possibility, which has so far been mostly overlooked or dismissed: Edward Snowden might be of a type we don’t hear much about in our Jaded Age. He might be an idealist who thinks he is doing good, but now realizes he is in WAY over his head and doesn’t know what to do about it all. 

  You see, if he really believes that the American public needs to know all those secrets the government is holding about trolling Facebook and listening to phone calls and following searches on Google, then he really feels he needed to tell everyone about it, choosing newspapers are as vehicle (Jefferson would stop twitching at that), but having done that, he now realizes that this awesome power over millions of Americans is even more awesome against one American.  And now he knows that there is no power on this earth that can prevent him from spending the vast majority of the rest of his life in a heavily guarded facility—another example of what happens to the ideals of youth in a world of old evils and prejudices. 

  So Edward Snowden MIGHT just be what he says he is, though almost no one believes anyone could be that naïve.  He probably realized that he WAS naïve and now has become so not so much, not so clean-minded, not so innocent.  It wasn’t really logical that he could believe our government was spying on millions of us with the barest justification and not believe that if he blew that proverbial whistle, he wouldn’t be the target of that same government.  I imagine he is sitting somewhere he feels unsafe, chewing his nails, wondering what happened to him.  Sure, there is no doubt the hubris of youth is involved and probably some ego, too (probably a LOT of ego), but can we summarily dismiss Snowden as some maniac bent on the destruction of the United States?  Our “leaders” seem to be doing a pretty good job of that without much help. 

  One thing HAS happened which Snowden claimed he wanted, and that is some small amount of sane discussion on the balance between American individual liberty and American national security (I said a SMALL amount).  It’s a discussion mostly smothered by our continued horrified and fearful reaction to 9/11 and the nightmares politicians have of the Jihadi Specter menacing our liberty. If Private Bradley Manning and young Mr. Snowden are just the tip of the whistle-blowing iceberg, then our worries about the Chinese pale in any comparison.  It is some comfort, and should be a source of some pride, to know that despite the harrowing and often hysterical infighting about damn near everything in this country, we still produce those young idealists.  They may do wrong, but now we know more than we did before.  Isn’t that the American Way?


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