06/25/2013 02:09 pm ET Updated Aug 25, 2013

Snowden's Troubled Journey and Questionable Destination

It is impossible to map out a route to your destination if you don't know where you're starting from.

Sue Orman


Disclaimer: The author, a native of Ecuador, left Ecuador at age 10. He has been living in the United States since 1957 and became a U.S. citizen in 1961.


Let me first make perfectly clear: The Ecuadorian people are some of the most wonderful people in the world and Ecuador is one of the most beautiful countries on the planet.

Regrettably, Ecuador's governments have not always reflected the wonderfulness or the will of the Ecuadorian people.

It has been reported that Edward Snowden, the young man who may have already caused harm to our national security and is presently holed up at a Moscow airport transit zone, may have chosen Ecuador to be his final destination in a journey full of missteps and full of bad choices from the very beginning.

At the beginning of his fateful journey, when Snowden fled to Hong Kong with a trove of U.S. national security secrets allegedly stored in laptops and thumb drives, many -- including this author --- asked "Edward Snowden: Hero or Villain?"

While I had no doubt that Snowden had broken the law and a sacred trust -- regardless of his motives -- I was not quite ready to call him a traitor.

But I was ready to call into question his much-acclaimed intelligence and his patriotism and truthfulness:

If Snowden is brilliant enough to know the ins and outs of our nation's most sensitive surveillance programs and if -- as he claims -- he could shut the entire system in an afternoon if he wanted to and if he "had full access to the full rosters of everyone working at the NSA, the entire intelligence community, and undercover assets all around the world," how patriotic, how intelligent is it for him with this mass of knowledge of our most sensitive programs and assets to make his presence known in Hong Kong, where China -- or any other country or party with unfriendly designs towards the United States -- could whisk him off and in a Chinese water-boarding minute extract such wealth of information out of him?

But, still, Snowden can be praised for having started a national debate on surveillance methods and policies the government uses presumably to protect the nation from more terrorist attacks.

Many others have given Snowden plenty of credit for that.

For example, Mike Hashimoto, Editorial Writer at the Dallas Morning Views Blog, somewhat understanding of Snowden's motives and quite critical of National Intelligence Director James Clapper's testimony, wrote "Wittingly or no, former NSA contract worker sparks a debate"

But after Snowden's victory lap of countries not so friendly to the U.S. and after learning of his possible final destination -- anyone of several "bastions" of democracy, human rights and freedom of the press -- even Hashimoto throws his hands up in the air:

Anyone inclined to give Edward Snowden the benefit of the doubt -- liberal, conservative, libertarian or some mish-mash -- probably should have second thoughts today.

After roosting for a time in China, the former CIA worker and NSA contractor launched his Magical Mystery Tour over the weekend, with a stop in Moscow. The next dates appear to be Havana, Venezuela and/or Ecuador.

It's to the point that North Korea and Iran have to be asking, "What are we, chopped liver?"

Snowden clearly plans to hopscotch from safe house to safe house, but only in countries he believes -- with much justification -- would be disinclined to cooperate with the U.S. in returning him "home" to face criminal charges for thieving and leaking classified security information.

Hashimoto does not seem ready yet to call Snowden either a hero or a villain, but he does urge him to come home and face the consequences of his actions: "If he's really a whistleblower and is telling the truth, here's hoping he beats the rap."

I have to go back to Snowden's Grand Tour of enemy countries and his rumored selection of his final destination, Ecuador.

After Snowden and his "guardian" at The Guardian blasted the U.S. government for going after journalists and clamoring for freedom of the press, Snowden may be ending his odyssey in a country that, under President Correa, has passed laws that restrict press freedom and freedom of speech, in a country whose president a couple of years ago called the media "assassins with ink," and in a country where only a couple of weeks ago the legislature --- cheer-led by president Rafael Correa -- passed a bill "containing 119 of which outlawed so-called 'media lynching' which the law stated was having negative effect on person or institutions image without sufficient evidence. Criminal charges can be brought against journalists who violate the law."

After telling The Guardian that he chose Hong Kong because of its "spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent," Snowden is now apparently choosing as the end of his journey a place where he certainly will not be able to exercise much of that.

The BBC reports that "Defending the decision to consider Mr. Snowden's request, Mr. Patiño [Ecuador's foreign minister] said his country put human rights 'above any other interest that may be discussed or any other pressure it may be subjected to' and that [Snowden] would not face a fair trial at home."

(To read excerpts of Snowden's letter requesting asylum in Ecuador, please click here)

It might serve Snowden well, prior to boarding the next aircraft, to get a copy of today's New York Times, where he will read:

For years, Mr. Correa has been known for his prosecutions of his own country's journalists and his attempts to destroy the Organization of American States' office on press freedom. But this month he outdid himself: The country's rubber-stamp legislature passed a new media law, widely known as the "gag law," that was aptly described by the Inter-American Press Association as "the most serious setback for freedom of the press and of expression in the recent history of Latin America."

Mr. Snowden should be particularly interested in Section 30 of the law, which bans the "free circulation, especially by means of the communications media" of information "protected under a reserve clause established by law." The legislation empowers a new superintendent of information and communication to heavily fine anyone involved in releasing such information, even before they are prosecuted in the courts. In other words, had Mr. Snowden done his leaking in Ecuador, not just he but also any journalist who received his information would be subject to immediate financial sanction, followed by prosecution.

Mr. Snowden should also try to obtain a copy of the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012 for Ecuador, where he would read

The main human rights abuses were the use of excessive force by public security forces; restrictions on freedom of speech, press, and association; and corruption by officials. President Correa and his administration continued verbal and legal attacks against the media and used legal mechanisms such as libel laws and administrative regulations to suppress freedom of the press. Corruption was widespread, and questions continued regarding transparency within the judicial sector, despite attempts at procedural reform. The following human rights problems continued: isolated unlawful killings, poor prison conditions, arbitrary arrest and detention, abuses by security forces, a high number of pretrial detainees, and delays and denial of due process within the judicial system...

Mr. Snowden has said, "I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things."

Considering the present options for his journey's end -- whether Cuba, Venezuela or Ecuador -- Snowden may want to take a closer look at his starting point before selecting his final destination. He may well discover that his best option is to go back to that starting point.

He may not be "living in a palace petting a phoenix" in good ole USA, but he will face a better justice system.