THE BLOG
06/03/2014 03:21 pm ET | Updated Aug 03, 2014

Zones of Shadow in the Itinerary of Edward Snowden

To paraphrase from the French, a number of zones of shadow subsist in the Snowden affair.

"No Place to Hide," the book by Glenn Greenwald, Snowden's cutout into the world of the press, is fascinatingly prolix on the origins of his contact with Snowden -- including a six months' delay in its realization due to Greenwald's obtuse failure to get an encryption device installed in his computer, as required by his unidentified interlocutor, so that he could send Greenwald classified documents. Greenwald didn't know at the time that it was Snowden.

When they finally did meet, thanks to the intervention of a second journalist, Laura Poitras, Greenwald's narration is full of praise for Snowden's poise and bravery, and full of details of their meetings and negotiations.

Then there is largely a silence as to how Snowden took a plane for Moscow, particularly given the fact that his passport had been revoked by the State Department before he got on the plane (though it is possible Snowden might not have known this.) The question is, how did Snowden come in contact with the Russians? After he went public in Hong Kong and then went into hiding, what did he do? As is rumored, did he spend some days in a Russian safehouse in Hong Kong? Greenwald does not go into this in the book, though it is possible (but doubtful) that he may not have known.

Snowden's performance in his television interview with Brian Williams on May 28 will serve, at least partially, to validate the laudatory description of him in the Greenwald book. In his answers to Williams' questions, he was seemingly rational and balanced, and his articulation was impeccably fluid. As Alessandra Stanley pointed out in the New York Times of May 30, there were no "ums" or "likes" in his delivery. ("Um" being a longtime connective in American discourse, "like" being a more recent, and irritating, mark of the young.)

In his straightforward, though somewhat aseptic performance, Snowden drew an interesting distinction which Williams did not fail to point out: Snowden did not deny that he took out military documents, but said that he gave them to journalists to be published. That is, he apparently sought to absolve himself by putting the onus on them to decide which documents should not be published for reasons of national security.

Missing from the interview with Williams were details from his life in Russia. Who is he in contact with? How does he subsist? Where does the money come from? Etc. etc.

In talking about his earlier career, Snowden gave the impression that he was a high-level spy doing dangerous things abroad. But how dangerous is Europe, where he spent some time, arguably mostly working at a computer.

Snowden claimed that he remonstrated on several occasions with his NSA colleagues about what he saw as the agency's unacceptable methods. While he might have done this orally, the only written semi-corroboration from the NSA is an April 2013 memo from Snowden to a superior. But it has nothing to do with whistle-blowing. Snowden was inquiring as to the import of laws vis-à-vis executive orders and other legal instruments. And it was written after Snowden had begun stealing documents.

Snowden ended the May 28 interview with the words, "I've done the right thing." But the unpleasant truth is that he signed, then broke, his secrecy agreement with the CIA, which is a lifetime thing. He should have to answer for this, in one way or another.

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