As of this writing, Edward Snowden has been ensconced in the holding area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport for nearly a month. While this confinement alone would be more than sufficient punishment for most crimes (imagine daily breakfast of Russian pizza and Pepsi at the airport Sbarro), Snowden has been accused of the serious charge of espionage by the American Government through his public leaks to The Guardian.
Snowden has recently been offered asylum in Venezuela and is likely trying hard to make his way there to live indefinitely. If he does, presumably he will have plenty of free time to stock up on reading material and films to watch. There are, in fact, a particular book and movie that both might be instructive, the stories of two characters, one real and one fictional, twentysomethings like him who because of what they did must live their lives as outcasts.
The real character is Christopher Boyce, the protagonist of the 1985 film “The Falcon And The Snowman”. Boyce, who was portrayed by Timothy Hutton in the movie, was imprisoned in real- life in1977 for selling American secrets to the Soviet Union.
When he was 21, he, like Snowden, went to work for a private firm where he had access to CIA information. When he discovered the CIA was attempting to destabilize the governments of other countries, he sold the information to the Soviet Union. He was caught and received a 40-year prison sentence.
He has been on parole for several years but has some insights and advice for Snowden, which he recently related to CNN, “Edward Snowden is 29. I was 21. At that age, I felt indestructible. Nothing bad could ever happen to me, or so I thought. You just don’t think about these things when you’re young. You believe that bad things happen to other people. But you learn, after a while, that that’s not true. Ego played a great part in that… It certainly was exciting. I’m sure Snowden feels a similar excitement. But that excitement, after a while, is not a good excitement — it becomes terror…He’s in for a world of hurt, for the rest of his life. I feel sorry for him. He’s going to go through life not being able to trust anybody. And I think that in the end, it’ll end badly for him — one way or another, they’ll get their hands on him. He’s going to pay for it. He’s doomed… I think he’s scared to death. I think that every single person he sees, he’s wondering if that’s the person that’s coming for him… He’s probably worried that there is a large group of people in Washington, D.C., trying to come up with some way of getting back at him, to get control of him, to lock him up for the rest of his life… If I were him, I would at this point probably be having second thoughts. Asking myself “What did I do? What have I brought down upon my head? Did I really do this?”
Boyce’s experience is the cautionary tale that whatever happens, Snowden’s life is forever changed. As a fugitive, his relationships with friends and family will either be destroyed or irrevocably altered. There will be few people he can ever put his faith in, and he will always be looking over his shoulder.
Should he ultimately turn himself in to the U.S. Government, Edward Snowden should study the fictional Philip Nolan, the main character of the 1863 novella by Edward Everett Hale, The Man Without A Country. The story was about how Nolan, a young officer in his twenties, conspired with Aaron Burr to overthrow the United States Government in 1807. When Nolan is caught and tried he tells the judge, “I wish I may never hear of the United States again.”
The judge sentences him to a life aboard frigate ships where there is to be no mention of the United States. For the next 56 years, as he sails the oceans, he never hears any news about his country, to the point any mention of the United States in his books and newspapers is removed. When a repentant Nolan dies at the age of 80, a note in his Bible asks that he be buried with the inscription, “He loved his country as no other man has loved her; but no man deserved less at her hands”.
To give Snowden his due, his actions have raised serious and legitimate questions about the intrusive power of the State and individual rights. It is telling that so many people in the Government have already proclaimed him guilty and are ready to pass sentence. No doubt many of those standing in judgment also stand to be embarrassed, or worse, by what is on his hard drive.
Yet, whether traitor or hero, Edward Snowden will likely remain a man with little more than a grim future. Like the real Christopher Boyce and the fictional Phillip Nolan, he is probably destined for a sad and lonely life.
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