Before being pilloried and vilified, Edward Snowden was derided and dismissed as irrelevant. Whatever your take at the time, the events of the past 18 months have, if nothing else have proven his relevance. During this time he has been a cause célèbre – a traitor to some and a patriot to many. A recent article appearing in the Guardian annotates a meeting with Snowden, by novelist Arundhati Roy (author of the article) and actor John Cusack.
The wide-ranging interview that takes place in a room of a posh hotel, amid the chaos and contradictions that is life in Moscow, reveals a casually comfortable man, untethered, and apparently unaffected by the many pressures in his life of enforced exile. It may reshape your opinions about him, if not the overall narrative swirling about him.
It is a look at the life of a young man who, in the same spirit of patriotism that spurred his support of America’s foreign policy after 9/11, prompted him to rebel against it and turn whistleblower a decade later. In the end, maybe you’ll feel comfortable calling him ’’Ed”, too. But, unfortunately, Roy fails to exploit a golden opportunity to see and hear the man in a comfortable setting. Thus the article, while revealing little new , also misses the mark as she expounds on diverse topics which are unessential and distracting.
Another attendee and participant in the interview was Daniel Ellsberg, a whistleblower from decades ago, who leaked the ’’Pentagon Papers” back in 1971. His revelations detailed systematic lying by President Lyndon Johnson about the scope and prosecution of the Vietnam War – that era’s Iraq War blunder. Ellsberg’s actions inspired many future whistleblowers to come forward. While he may have been a curious or extraneous addition to the interview team, his presence apparently allowed Snowden to let down his guard and open up to a kindred spirit. Unfortunately, we were treated (in my opinion) to too much Ellsberg and not enough Snowden!
Of course, Snowden has to walk a fine line these days, as he attempts to manipulate a hostile US government apparatus to gain a more friendly atmosphere for a possible return to the US and a trial. So, he goes out of his way to avoid tweaking the government over his spy status, even as he obviously relishes comparing notes with Ellsberg.
It is Ellsberg who, in contemplating Snowden’s precarious situation, laments that the best and brightest must face exile – whether in actuality in a foreign country, or symbolically by the stifling of dissent at home. He weeps over the predicament and the depths that governments will descend in order to hide the truth. Forty years on years from his disclosures, little seems to have changed regarding government’s treatment of the truth.
Roy draws an interesting portrait of Snowden, comparing his plight to that of the millions of refugees now roaming the globe, fleeing from oppression. She portrays Snowden also as a refugee of sorts, even though, unlike most of the world’s refugees who desire a new beginning abroad and wouldn’t return home, Snowden would return under the right conditions.
The article drifts too far afield, in my opinion, and fails to capture the essence of the moment, or effectively draw salient details or emotions from Snowden. Instead, Roy allocates many words to Ellsberg and his feelings, before jumping further afield to lionize Julian Assange, further muddying the essay. It is too bad she strayed in favor of a soapbox to wax poetic about the vagaries of real world politics, missing a golden opportunity to see and hear Edward Snowden unplugged.