They seek him here; they seek him there. The whereabouts of whistleblower Edward Snowden still puzzles media hawks trolling every nook and cranny of a Moscow airport where it's believed the fugitive from US justice is still in transit.
The belief is that he's hiding out in a room just about big enough for a bed within a cramped airport hotel, which, if true, means he's suffering self-inflicted incarceration, echoing the plight of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for an indefinite period to escape extradition to Sweden. Both men, heroes in the eyes of some and condemned as traitors by others, are paying a heavy price for taking on American might to expose truth.
For a while, it seemed Snowden had the upper hand. Despite pressure from the US Justice Department, which smugly believed Hong Kong would respond favorably to an extradition request, he was permitted to travel to Moscow on a temporary travel permit issued by an Ecuadorian diplomat, allegedly at the urging of Mr. Assange - a move that's cast a frosty chill over US-China relations. Then it was anticipated he would fly to Cuba prior to taking an onward flight to Ecuador where he looked set to receive political asylum but although a ticket had been issued, the media hordes were disappointed to find an empty seat. The White House turned its ire on Russia with the demand that Snowden be delivered to US authorities. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was in no mood to comply. While he confirmed that the former contracted NSA employee was, indeed, at the airport, he stressed the absence of a US-Russian extradition treaty.
Of course, Snowden could have escaped transit in disguise via a side door with Moscow's blessing. In the past, Russia had made noises to the effect it might be willing to consider offering him asylum and it's hard to believe that the secrets contained in Snowden's four laptops wouldn't be of interest to Russia's intelligence community. However, that option may be unpalatable to the 30-year-old who has forcefully billed himself as an ethically motivated individual who loves his country enough to spark a debate on state snooping vs. security. Should he turn up in Russia proper, he will be vilified as a turncoat.
On the face of it, Snowden's plight has worsened in recent days. Ecuador's embrace once looked like smooth sailing, but no longer. It looks as though President Rafael Correa has cold feet after receiving a call from US Vice President Joe Biden who no doubt played the heavy with the leader of this South American nation with limited clout on the world's stage. Ecuador's initial willingness to offer a home to a political exile, which is every country's set-in-stone right, has already invoked a heavy cost.
Following a threat from the US to revoke preferential trade tariffs worth $ 23 million annually, Correa refused to submit to what he termed "blackmail", announcing Ecuador had unilaterally and irrevocably renounced that economic pact. The president says he won't be bullied but his actions are contradictory. Ecuador has now canceled Snowden's temporary travel document and implied that asylum can only be mulled once an applicant is in country. However, given that the US has shredded Snowden's passport and without one he is unable to purchase a flight ticket, that prospect looks remote. In the worst case scenario, he could end up spending months or even years in transit limbo.
There is a glimmer of light. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who is cut from the same anti-neo-imperialist cloth as the late Hugo Chavez, stepped forward with an unequivocal message on Thursday, saying, "If that young man needs humanitarian protection and believes that he can come to Venezuela," then Venezuela, "is prepared to protect this brave youth in a humanitarian way so that humanity can learn the truth..." That offer is one that Snowden shouldn't hesitate to accept. Oil rich Venezuela has powerful allies and in light of its past record, won't succumb to US pressure. One is left to wonder why Snowden isn't winging his way to Caracas. It may be that he's hesitant to be seen hobnobbing with a government that's gleeful over every chance of undermining his own.
It's also possible that Snowden has been stricken with an attack of conscience, although to my mind, he's nothing to feel guilty about when the US has been breaching its own constitution and statutes with its mass trawling of e-mails, social media sites and phone calls made by its own citizens. His father, who says he hasn't spoken to his son (with ‘spoken' being the operative word) since April, asserts Snowden may be willing to return to America to face the music subject to certain preconditions. The first is that he won't be jailed pretrial; the other would permit the young man to select the court's location. Going home would be madness when Congress is sharpening its knives and he's already been judged by the US media that's been criticized for its pro-government bias.
For instance, Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who first broke the story, has come under personal attack, his private life picked over by vicious US colleagues, out to shoot the messenger. Greenwald has often highlighted the media's cozy relationship with Washington's establishment and lately he's been provided with a mountain of ammunition on that score. The host of Meet the Press David Gregory crossed journalistic boundaries when he accused Greenwald of aiding and abetting Snowden before asking "Why shouldn't you be charged with a crime?"
Tragically, whether or not Snowden is ultimately welcomed by a sympathetic nation somewhere on the planet his mission has failed. The US media has shirked its duty to hold its government's feet to the fire and has instead focused its reporting on the man who sacrificed family, friends and country to expose wrongs. It has elicited strained relations between the US and the EU Parliament whose members are incensed over allegations that the NSA intercepted its communications and are demanding answers from the White House.
You've done your bit, Mr. Snowden. Ignore the gnashing lions at home. It's time to seek peace and sanctuary wherever you can find it while you still can.