Snowden the real of man of the year

Updated: 2013-12-18 08:17

By Philip J. Cunningham (China Daily)

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In May, Snowden made a mad dash for Hong Kong, putting himself at risk in a way that still has analysts scratching their heads. Why Hong Kong?

Once ensconced in a Kowloon hotel he contacted journalists and privacy advocates who he had long admired from afar, including Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras. They broke the scoop of the year in The Guardian, which named Snowden its "Person of the Year".

Readers around the world were surprised at Snowden's youth, amazed at the value of his loot, and taken aback by his apparent lack of a getaway plan.

There was a modest groundswell of support for Snowden in Hong Kong, but to be safe from the long arm of American law, he booked a flight to Moscow with help from Wikileaks. Hong Kong's refusal to detain him at the airport, though couched in diplomatic language, was a small victory for standing up to US pressure, which under an agitated Obama was turning into something of a full court press.

Snowden holed up in Moscow airport's "sterile zone" for 39 days until an entry into Russia could be arranged. Bereft of his earth-shaking thumb drives, he presumably had little to offer his hosts other than an opportunity to say no to arrogant US arm-twisting.

As University of Michigan professor Juan Cole, himself a victim of White House spying during the war in Iraq, has written, Snowden's revelations make Orwell's 1984 "look like a lackadaisical libertarian paradise" and Obama's complaisance makes him look like a front man "for an octopus-like secret government".

Snowden has changed our understanding of how governments actually work, especially the "Five Eyes" governments who collaboratively spy on everyone all the time without legal safeguards, while solemnly invoking an Anglo-Saxon axis in the name of democracy, dissent and right to privacy.

The author is a visiting research fellow, Cornell University, New York.

Snowden the real of man of the year

(China Daily 12/18/2013 page9)

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