US President Barack Obama’s administration has denounced the leaks as reckless and said it has put national security at risk.
The story on Sunday last week shifted from the leaks to the leaker. Snowden had from the start decided against anonymity and Poitras filmed him being interviewed by Greenwald for a video that would unmask him.
Snowden’s decision to go public has mystified many. Why come out?
He had, he said, seen at first hand the impact on colleagues of leak inquiries involving anonymous sources and did not want to put his colleagues through another ordeal.
So what are the options available to him now? In the interviews, he praised Hong Kong as a place with a strong tradition of free speech and a working judicial system, despite having been returned to Chinese sovereignty. However, these courts, judging by examples of past extradition cases, tend to lean toward being helpful towards the US.
He would probably argue he is guilty of no crime and claim the charges are politically motivated.
He has been hailed as a hero by some and condemned as a criminal by others. He was denigrated in columns in the New York Times and the Washington Post. The Post columnist Richard Cohen, though he has never met Snowden, wrote of him: “He is not paranoic; he is merely narcissistic.”
In the New York Times, David Brooks offered up a psychological analysis.
“Though thoughtful, morally engaged and deeply committed to his beliefs, he appears to be a product of one of the more unfortunate trends of the age: The atomization of society, the loosening of social bonds, the apparently growing share of young men in their 20s who are living technological existences in the fuzzy land between their childhood institutions and adult family commitments,” Brooks wrote.
On Sunday night last week, Snowden gave the last of almost a week’s worth of interviews. It was his final night in that hotel room: The final night before his old life gave way to a new and uncertain one.
He sat on his bed, arms folded, TV news on without the sound, and spoke about the debate he had started, homing in on a comment Obama made the previous Friday in response to the leaks.
“You can’t have 100 percent security and then also have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” Obama had said; society had to make choices.
Snowden challenged this, saying the problem was that the Obama administration had denied society the chance to have that discussion. He disputed that there had to be a trade-off between security and privacy, describing the very idea of such a trade-off as a fundamental assault on the US constitution.
In what were to be the last words of the interview, he quoted Benjamin Franklin: “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”
Snowden recited it slowly. For him, it had a special resonance.
He has gone underground, for now. However, this saga is far from over.