In October, I traveled to Russia with three other Americans to present former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden with the annual Sam Adams Associates Award for Integrity in Intelligence. Ray McGovern (retired CIA analyst), Thomas Drake (former NSA senior executive and whistleblower), Coleen Rowley (retired FBI agent and whistleblower) and I felt it especially important that Snowden receive this award from Americans who served the government in the intelligence and national security fields. We all had serious concerns about our trip—not about getting into Russia, but about getting back into our own country. We left Washington with a lawyer on retainer and no electronics—cellphones, laptops or any of today’s normal lifelines—knowing that the United States could geo-locate us and find Snowden, and also knowing we could have our devices searched and confiscated upon our return.
The Sam Adams Integrity Award is named for a CIA analyst who discovered in 1967 that there were more than a half-million Vietnamese Communists under arms—roughly twice the number the US command in Saigon would admit to, lest Americans learn that claims of “progress” were bogus. Adams pressed for honesty and accountability but stayed “inside channels”—and failed. We believe that Snowden exemplifies Adams’s courage, persistence and devotion to truth. We wanted Snowden to know that 60 percent of young Americans support him, as well as thousands in the national security and intelligence agencies where we used to work.
The first thing I’m usually asked is how Edward Snowden is doing. Given the extraordinary circumstances and pressure he’s under, he’s doing remarkably well. Snowden was warm and engaged. He was brilliant, humble and idealistic—in the best sense of the word. It is the sort of idealism that allows someone to undertake such a magnificent act of civil disobedience. It’s an idealism that believes democracy can rein in the surveillance state our country has become, if only the public knew what was going on.
It’s important to remember that Snowden is an asylee, not a “fugitive,” as the US mainstream media routinely describe him. An asylee has the right to be left alone, not hunted like an animal, but the US government refuses to recognize Russia’s grant of political asylum, as it is obligated to do under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Edward Snowden is not being controlled by the Russians, or anyone else for that matter. He is fiercely independent and makes his own decisions, and he’s understandably frustrated by insinuations that he is giving the Russians information. He ticks off abundant evidence to the contrary. First, he points out, he didn’t destroy his life merely to become a Russian asset. Second, he’s in Russia only because the United States revoked his passport when he was en route to Latin America. Third, WikiLeaks journalist Sarah Harrison has been by his side the whole time, in part to bear witness to the fact that he is not engaged in spying. Fourth, it is obvious that Snowden chose to give information about the NSA’s secret dragnet surveillance to the American people, not foreign adversaries. Fifth—and perhaps most significant, considering the contrary narrative promulgated in the United States—he has not had access to the information he revealed since he left Hong Kong.