On the one hand, I’ve vastly amused by the consternation of various US spokescritters at the fact that Edward Snowden has slipped out of Hong Kong and is apparently en route to Ecuador. What good is being a superpower if you can’t stomp world-headline-creating embarrassments like a bug?
On the other hand, Snowden’s latest move is just one play in a continuing drama. I’m not as cheered as most readers are, simply because I have my doubts as to how safe Snowden will be in Ecuador (or Venezuela or wherever he lands). The American security state does not like being made to look impotent and foolish. Getting Snowden rendered or killed has to be a very high priority. The US has been playing that game much longer than the media lets on. For instance, the US tried unsuccessfully to render tax felon Marc Rich out of Switzerland in 1992.
Assuming Snowden manages to stay free for more than the next few months, what happens? Over the near term, he’ll presumably be occupied getting oriented, learning Spanish, continuing to work with the Guardian on information releases, and will probably have enough local supporters so as not to have to worry about his next meal or a roof over his head. But what after that?
Snowden has managed to defy expectations. If I were in his shoes, my next move would be a book. After all, that’s a way to take advantage of his international name recognition, keep the spotlight on NSA/surveillance state overreach, and earn some change. Now imagine the spectacle. Anyone as well-known as Snowden would under normal circumstances command a huge book advance; O.J. Simpson received $900,000 for the scuttled “If I Did It” (and the press reports say this was what he received; “advances” have a payout schedule with a portion paid on contract signing, another chunk on delivery of the manuscript, etc, so if he got $900,000 on signing, the total advance was larger, which is consistent with earlier rumors).
Snowden could try the traditional publication route just to catch out the US government pressuring major publishers to shun him. Would non-US/UK player (think Bertlesmann) defy them? And what if Snowden is (likely) forced to go the self publishing route? Would the US demand that credit cards networks and Paypal to block payments as they did with Wikileaks? Would they be so desperate as to try to interfere with free public distribution? Moves like that would keep Snowden in the public eye and make his book a hot item.
So while I am not optimistic as to how long Snowden will maintain some semblance of freedom of operation, he’s got plenty of ways to keep attention on the overreach of US intelligence services. Let’s hope he can continue to beat the odds.