BY FLITTING from one authoritarian country to another and hoping, like WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, to end up in the embrace of Ecuador, the fugitive US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden is making a mockery of his claims to be a high-minded whistle blower acting purely in the interests of “freedom and basic liberties”.
His trajectory from Hong Kong — a Special Administrative Region of China, which has been severely criticized for its human rights record and pervasive cyber espionage — onwards to Russia, where the definition of treason and espionage has been expanded to include “international advocacy on human rights”, is hardly reassuring for those trying to draw comparisons between Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg.
According to Assange, Snowden’s final goal is political asylum in Ecuador, possibly travelling via Cuba and Venezuela. The three Latin American countries share poor human rights records. Ecuador, which is providing refuge for Assange in London, has a history of oppression against media freedom that was reinforced recently with a so-called “gag law” condemned by Human Rights Watch.
This does not appear to have bothered Assange. Nor, apparently, does it bother Snowden, who is seeking to mount his case against the US over global surveillance programs by the National Security Agency.
The US, as Human Rights Watch attests, has “a vibrant civil society and media that enjoy strong constitutional protections” — the ideals Snowden says he holds dear. Like Assange, who is seeking to avoid facing charges in Sweden, a liberal democracy with a fine legal tradition, Snowden is ill-serving the cause he espouses by seeking help from authoritarian regimes antagonistic to the freedoms he claims to value.
U.S. senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat with a long record of support for liberal causes, has said of Snowden: “I don’t think running is a noble thought.”
She’s right: if he really believed in what he was doing and wanted to be taken seriously as a whistle blower, Snowden would have done better to stay home and defend himself. Like Assange, he is being compromised by his own unfortunate choices.
The Australian, Sydney