Ever since former CIA operative Edward Snowden outed himself as the whistleblower who exposed mass surveillance by the American National Security Agency, opinion has been divided on whether he was a hero or a traitor.
The world of politicians and commentators, it appears, cannot still seem to agree on the man. In recent days, his wilful leaks of top-security information related to American national security – and his readiness to take responsibility for his actions even when he is on the run – have been described as “an act of treason”. The man himself has been derided as a “narcissist” and as someone who betrayed honesty and integrity, his friends, his employers, the cause of open government, and above all else, the Constitution.
More bizarrely, Snowden has been characterised as a “cross-dressing Little Miss Red Riding Hood.”
It appears that the effort to demonise Snowden is well under way.
In Washington, Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the national intelligence committee, responded to the media expose of the mass surveillance exercise in the name of national security by ordering the NSA to review how it limits the exposure of Americans to government surveillance. But, the Guardian reports, she also made clear her disapproval of Snowden. “What he did was an act of treason,” she said.
Editorial commentators have had even more withering things to say of Snowden, who confided in an interview to The Guardian in Hong Kong on Sunday that he feared he could be killed or kidnapped – and his family harassed for his action.
Writing in The Washington Post, Richard Cohen refers to the “overwrought” interview – and to the interviewer Glenn Greenwald’s report noting that Snowden "lines the door of his hotel room with pillows to prevent eavesdropping" and that "he puts a large red hood over his head and laptop when entering his passwords to prevent any hidden cameras from detecting them."
Cohen says that makes Snowden not “one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers” (as Greenwald described him) but “a cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood.”
Media accounts of how Greenwald made physical contact with Snowden in Hong Kong reinforce the whistleblower’s extreme paranoia, which is straight out of cloak-and-dagger spy novels, complete with fake alligators, a Rubik’s cube - and code words.
According to this report, Snowden had “some elaborate scheme” to meet Greenwald, who didn’t know what the other looked like.
“Snowden told him to go to a specific location on the third floor of the hotel and ask loudly for directions to a restaurant. Greenwald assumed Snowden was lurking in the background, listening in.
Greenwald and another journalist went to a room that, Greenwald recalled, contained a large fake alligator. “Snowden made himself known. He had told Greenwald that ‘I would know it was him because he would be carrying a Rubik's Cube’.”
Everything about Edward Snowden, writes Cohen, is ridiculously cinematic. “He is not paranoiac; he is merely narcissistic. He jettisoned a girlfriend, a career and, undoubtedly, his personal freedom to expose programs that were known to our elected officials and could have been deduced by anyone who has ever Googled anything. History will not record him as ‘one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers.’ History is more likely to forget him.”
Conservative commentator David Brooks goes one step further and carries out a psychological analysis of Snowden, noting that everything about him made Snowden “the ultimate unmediated man.”
“He has not been a regular presence around his mother’s house for years. When a neighbour in Hawaii tried to introduce himself, Snowden cut him off and made it clear he wanted no neighbourly relationships. He went to work for Booz Allen Hamilton and the C.I.A., but he has separated himself from them, too.”
For society to function well, writes Brooks, “there have to be basic levels of trust and cooperation, a respect for institutions and deference to common procedures. By deciding to unilaterally leak secret NSA documents, Snowden has betrayed all of these things.”