x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Let it Snowden

The American whistleblower is very much a man of his time

There are not many people who will have spent this Christmas in such drastically different circumstances as Edward Snowden. There are few who have so greatly affected their country’s perception and perhaps even foreign policy over the last year. This time last year, Mr Snowden was working in Hawaii for America’s National Security Agency.

He is now in an unknown location in Moscow, relishing – as far as one can gather from public statements he has given in the past few days – his effect on US foreign relations. His revelations of the vast extent of US spying have reached the ears of just about everyone in power, and caused rifts between the superpower and its Latin American neighbours and European allies. Did he think about all this at his computer screen in Hawaii?

In some respects, Mr Snowden is a phenomenon very much of his time: a nerd in an era of big data, searching for the detail in the cloud of information and with little interest in the bigger picture. It is this focus on one theme that led him from a comfortable job to precarious exile. Many others, had they thought too much about what they might have to give up, would have hesitated to abandon the comforts of home for the uncertainties of whistle-blowing, even if it meant being hailed by some as a hero.