Mr Edward Snowden versus the United States
Edward Snowden

IF former United States President Mr Barack Obama did not pardon Jamaica's first National Hero Mr Marcus Mosiah Garvey, we did not expect him to do so for Mr Edward J Snowden who has just been made a citizen of Russia by President Vladimir Putin.

Afterall, Mr Garvey, an iconic black nationalist and civil rights advocate who was convicted in 1923 on trumped up charges of mail fraud, did not leak tons of secret US documents which had the potential to seriously harm America and its people, as Mr Snowden did.

We are moved to reflect on the Snowden issue because of his citizenship in a country which is virtually at war with the world over Ukraine, and the fact that we have at times experienced some degree of ambivalence about the actions and motives of the former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and National Security Agency (NSA) programmer.

Mr Snowden gave hundreds of highly classified NSA documents to two US newspapers in 2013, saying the US intelligence agencies had been spying on American citizens and he wanted to expose them.

The agencies contended that the documents were so highly classified that their disclosure could be used to seriously harm the US, if they fell into enemy hands. He was accused of breaching the Espionage Act.

As he tried to flee capture by US authorities, according to The New York Times, Mr Snowden planned to seek asylum in Ecuador, and set out from Hong Kong to reach South America. But he became stranded on a layover in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport and has remained in Russia for the nine years since.

Mr Snowden's actions set off a global debate about free speech and governments spying on their own citizens. Some described him as a patriot while others vilified him as a traitor to his country. He called himself a whistleblower who wanted to see reform in the intelligence community.

Such was the intensity of the debate that he became the subject of an eponymous Hollywood movie, an Oscar-winning documentary, and plays such as Privacy. Journalists from both newspapers received Pulitzer prizes because of Snowden's leaks to them.

Mr Snowden eventually gained residency status in Russia, although saying that he looked forward to returning to his home country with his wife, "raising our son with all the values of the America we love — including the freedom to speak my mind".

We in this space have always found ourselves on both sides of the debate — that governments have to seek information about the activities of its citizens who may pose a threat to the country, but should not unjustifiably invade their privacy.

It has also struck us that Mr Snowden did not remain in the US to fight his case, finding the courage of his convictions to try to prove that he was justified in his extreme actions. Otherwise, who is to know what were his true motives?

Moreover, how is he going to practise free speech in a country where that is not allowed? Given that Russia has put itself in a public relations nightmare by invading Ukraine, is this citizenship move a political stunt?

And what is to be made of the fact that Mr Snowden is being exempted from the "partial mobilisation" for the war on Ukraine? Finally, as a citizen of Russia, will he obey orders to serve his new country, at the expense of America?

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