The defection of Edward Snowden

Yet for a self-declared whistleblower, concerned with surveillance and curtailed civil liberties, the decision to flee arrest and trial matters at least as much as where one chooses to flee. For starters, Hong Kong has an extradition treaty with the U.S., so hiding there would not necessarily protect him. Moreover, running away to China while complaining about a surveillance state (“I don’t want to live in a society that does these sorts of things,” Snowden told Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras in the Guardian film) suggests that he has questionable judgment.

While in Hong Kong, Snowden leaked detailed plans for America’s future cyberwarfare operations against China. They did not involve the American government abusing the rights of its citizens; rather, the documents showed that the American government was taking its obligation to protect American interests, even online, seriously. His confidant, Glenn Greenwald, told a DailyBeast reporter, “What motivated that leak though was a need to ingratiate himself to the people of Hong Kong and China.”

Snowden’s supporters defend even that decision; after all, how else would he make himself appear valuable to the Chinese government and make it likely they’d grant him asylum from U.S. prosecution? Such a decision contains within it an implicit threat of more disclosures to Beijing. Greenwald has said, repeatedly, that Snowden has thousands of sensitive documents, which are clear leverage should he need to bargain with a reluctant government. Whatever his other beliefs, the implicit trade of documents-for-refuge was built into his Hong Kong gambit.

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