I’ve been thinking a lot about Edward Snowden’s time in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, where some say he has been in the transit lounge since June 23. I like being in a transit lounge. I enjoy the extremely limited options there. Somehow, with all free will virtually suspended, it feels like the time is not really being deducted from one’s life. A great deal of time, if you’re Mr. Snowden.
He has applied for asylum in more than 20 countries. A foreign minister for China said she has no information on Mr. Snowden’s request, as though his salad order had been lost. The nations of the world were close to united in their indifference, or at least convincingly feigned indifference, both to Mr. Snowden’s disclosures and to his plight. It’s like a movie in which aliens attack a fractured world and a common cause is found – in this case, the cause of not having Edward Snowden over.
As the number of non-responses and evasive rejections from around the world mounted (I believe France’s mother had just died and Lithuania claimed its dog ate its airports), Mr. Snowden complained of his “exile” from the United States, although I’m sure he’s welcome to go home any time he chooses – I imagine they’d even send a jet.
In interviews, he seems well-intentioned but possibly as though he doesn’t fully understand the material that came into his hands. Still, I like to imagine that he has found a way to give his life meaning in the airport. I’ve pictured Mr. Snowden earnestly helping a passenger make his connecting flight – telling him that while he’s dismayed that the passenger’s ticket discloses so much travel information, he is “happy to reveal the truth that your flight to Hamburg leaves from Gate 7 and is scheduled to arrive on time.”
If it goes on much longer, a new box might be added to the Russian customs form: “Yes, I packed my own luggage, but Edward Snowden repacked it for me. He did a great job. The secret is to roll.”
Perhaps sometimes Mr. Snowden goes over to the airport lounge bar and says, “I’d like to exercise a basic right, a right that belongs to everybody: the right to order nachos,” to a waiter who has grown used to this kind of thing. Just as he has grown accustomed to Mr. Snowden standing up and yelling, “There is a six-hour time difference between Moscow and Sydney! I don’t want to live in a world where people don’t know there is a six-hour time difference between Moscow and Sydney!”
To which most people in the bar respond, “We could always Google it if we were curious, man. Settle down. Some sort of standardized time was in order. Such things do not necessarily suggest collusion. Sometimes there is a practical level of co-operation between nations.”
This week, a Quinnipiac University poll showed that a mere 34 per cent of Americans consider Edward Snowden to be a traitor, while about 55 per cent view him as a whistleblower. In the same poll, 53 per cent of respondents said the National Security Agency program he revealed “is too much intrusion into Americans’ personal privacy” – yet 54 per cent said the NSA’s collection of data on domestic phone calls “is necessary to keep Americans safe.”
Data on the having and eating of cake in America have yet to be collected.
On Friday, Russian officials and activists met with Mr. Snowden in his airport home. It’s believed he’ll again seek temporary asylum in that country, having withdrawn his initial bid after President Vladimir Putin insisted he would have to stop “damaging our American partners” in order to be granted refuge. The fugitive now says he doesn’t see himself as having damaged the U.S., so potentially Mr. Snowden could keep on patriotically leaking, unless the Russians become more specific with their wording, provided he has anything left to leak.
He has also said he doesn’t see himself living permanently in Russia – he remains hopeful some route will be found to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador or Bolivia, the countries that have offered him asylum. Transit through U.S. airspace has been the tricky issue; finding paths out of Russia for Mr. Snowden has become a logic puzzle for a new breed of flight-path fanboys.
In a sense, in his new request to Russia, Mr. Snowden is only seeking admission to a much larger transit lounge, but a transit lounge nonetheless – a setting that has seemed almost theatrically appropriate to this story, a place where resolution and accomplishment are suspended.