The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

Opinion

June 17, 2013

You, too, can be a slacker spy

TARBORO — Think you're a loser just because you dropped out of high school and never finished the military training you began?

Think you're a dud just because you work as a security guard even though you dreamed of becoming a global savior?

Well, don't beat yourself up. You, too, can become an international superspy like Edward Snowden.

Snowden, 29, and possessing all the qualifications to become a grocery bagger, instead gets hired by the National Security Agency as a security guard, after dropping out of high school and the Army.

This naturally brings him to the attention of the Central Intelligence Agency, which hires him and sends him to Geneva, Switzerland, with diplomatic cover and a high security clearance.

With all that on his resume, he gets scooped up by defense contractor colossus Booz Allen Hamilton, which assigns him to work at an NSA facility in Hawaii for a reported $200,000 per year. This allows Snowden to rent a house near the beach for him and his girlfriend.

Some would think this is not a bad life for a guy who has been a total slacker. But this is not what Edward Snowden thinks. He has still not saved the world or become an international celebrity.

So first he leaks classified information that reveals our government is collecting information on all phone calls made on the Verizon network and then leaks classified info that reveals the government collects Internet data on foreigners from companies like Google and Facebook.

Then Snowden flees the United States to a luxury hotel in — wait for it — China.

True, it is Hong Kong, a fabulous city brimming with soaring skyscrapers, marvelous restaurants, a glamorous nightlife and people of copious wealth. And true, Hong Kong operates as a "semi-autonomous region" of China in which and people have more rights.

But as James Fallows of The Atlantic recently wrote: "Hong Kong is not a sovereign country. It is part of China — a country that by the libertarian standards Edward Snowden says he cares about is worse, not better, than the United States.

"It has even more surveillance of its citizens ... its press is thoroughly government-controlled; it has no legal theory of protection for free speech; and it doesn't even have national elections."

Oh, well, small slip-up. But at least Snowden can live there as a political refugee even if the United States wants him back, right?

Uh, probably not. Regina Ip, a legislator and former security secretary in Hong Kong, told The Wall Street Journal, "We work very closely with U.S. authorities" and Snowden's choice of Hong Kong as a refuge is "really being based on unfortunate ignorance."

But Snowden never claimed to be a genius. Maybe the history of modern China was not on his GED exam.

It appears that what Snowden really wants to be is a superhero in his own comic book. In dealing with Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman, Snowden assigns himself the code name "Verax" and Gellman the codename "BRASSBANNER."

"I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions," he dramatically writes Gellman. And later, "There's no saving me."

He also writes Gellman that the U.S. intelligence community "will most certainly kill you" if they think Gellman's murder might stop the leaks from being published. Gellman, an experienced and distinguished reporter, said he did not take this "literally."

But Edward Snowden does not live in a literal world. After the comic book, there could be a movie, a "Snowden Ultimatum" kind of thing. (Matt Damon is 42, but he could play 29.)

Sunday, from his Hong Kong hotel room, Snowden continued to communicate with — the still alive — Gellman.

"There's no precedent in my life for this kind of thing," Snowden wrote. "I've been a spy for almost all of my adult life -- I don't like being in the spotlight."

Which is the trouble with spies. You can't believe a word they say.

(Roger Simon is POLITICO's chief political columnist. His new e-book, "RECKONING: Campaign 2012 and the Fight for the Soul of America," can be found on Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com and iTunes. To find out more about Simon, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.)

 

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