by Bonnie Greer

03 July 2013

from TheTelegraph Website



Diplomatic rows and farcical airport

spats over the fate of the NSA whistleblower

are obscuring his real political significance,

says Bonnie Greer



Edward Snowden

is believed to be still in Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow

Photo: AP


We arrived yesterday at an absurd moment in the saga of the American whistleblower Edward Snowden.


The presidential plane carrying Bolivia’s Evo Morales home from a conference in Moscow was searched during a stop-over in Vienna on suspicion of carrying Snowden to 0asylum in Latin America. The Bolivians declared that France, Italy, Spain and Portugal had refused to allow the plane to enter their airspace, forcing it to land in Austria.

Bolivia, no friend of the US, accused European countries of doing the US’s dirty work.

“We have no doubt that it was an order from the White House,” Sacha Llorenti, the country’s ambassador to the UN, said. “By no means should a diplomatic plane with the president be diverted from its route and forced to land in another country.”

France, Spain and Portugal subsequently denied that they had closed their airspace.


Austria insisted that President Morales had agreed to a voluntary inspection of his plane; Austria’s deputy chancellor, Michael Spindelegger, said:

“Our colleagues from the airport had a look and can give assurances that no one is on board who is not a Bolivian citizen.”

Eventually, amid talk from the Bolivians of an act of aggression and a violation of international law, the plane was allowed to take off.

About 21 countries have become involved in Snowden’s request for asylum. Five have rejected granting Snowden asylum, seven have said they would consider a request if made on their soil, and eight said they had either not made a decision or not received a request.


Obama warned that any offer of asylum to Snowden would carry a heavy cost.

Meanwhile, Snowden is believed still to be in Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow.


Russia has no extradition treaty with the US; President Putin has stated that there is a possibility that Snowden could stay, but that he must not leak information “against our American partners”.


He ended this statement by saying that,

“this may sound surprising coming from my lips”.

If you look at the photograph of presidents Obama and Putin at the G8 last month, seated together at a press conference almost with their backs to one another, it would be easy to assume that Snowden would provide a perfect opportunity for Putin to wreak mischief and mayhem.


This affair has provided, instead, another chapter in the Game of Nations. And there sits Snowden, in a Moscow transit lounge, the lead character in what must have been, to him, an act that was straightforward: he had a personal mission to complete.

To many, particularly those on the centre-Right, the Snowden revelations are interesting in the particular, but no big thing in the general. Of course we are spied on, listened to, observed, the argument runs: what’s new?


London has more security cameras per mile than any city on earth. You are likely to be captured up to 500 times a day if you live in the West End as I do. Our smart phones have become big data collectors, and as long as we’ve done nothing wrong, we have nothing to hide.

Snowden is, to those who feel that way, another Lefty on the run; not worth thinking about other than as an amusement, a bit of a divertissement in the daily news bulletins.

Then there are those who argue that, while the US government should prosecute Snowden, the media’s focus on his personal life, his whereabouts, what he is about to do next, draws attention away from more important issues: serious questions about US government surveillance and how the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act are interpreted.

But they’re wrong. Something new is revealing itself in the tale of Edward Snowden and it is coming quickly into the general consciousness. Snowden is part of the global town square, created by social media, which is effectively running politics in Brazil, Egypt, Turkey, and will do so in the West, too.

Snowden, who spent his 30th birthday on the run, is one of a new breed I call the “Libertarian Millennial”.


Apolitical, perhaps even post-political, they do what they do because they have come to their own conclusions in their own time and in their own way.

“I don’t want to live in a society that does these [surveillance] sort of things… I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded,” Snowden declares.

There you have it: “I don’t”, “I do not” and “everything I do and say” are the key phrases here.

Snowden is not like the main whistleblower of my youth, Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 leaked what became known as the Pentagon Papers, a defence department history of American involvement in Vietnam.


Ellsberg was steeped in the security mechanisms of the United States; he knew what the consequences of his leak were.


He was a professional who saw what he did as part of what we, the young, were doing in the streets. He pondered long and hard over his actions and, in doing what he did, saw himself as part of something bigger, something collective.

In a sense, he took his permission from those of us who were against the Vietnam War. Ellsberg came back to us as the vehicles who would take his action forward. The press were largely on his side. They knew him, not necessarily in the particular, but where he came from. They understood his intentions. He was not alone.

At the trial of Bradley Manning, the US soldier accused of passing classified material to the WikiLeaks website, attorneys are arguing over what the prosecution calls Manning’s “arrogance” and the defence call his “good intentions”. But Manning’s actions fit neither of those definitions, as we usually understand them.


He and Snowden and other Millennials are empowered by the tools that they are also at war with; it is these tools that are their engines, the shapers of their consciousness. They are neither of the Left nor the Right.

It is no surprise that Snowden contributed to the 2012 presidential campaign of Ron Paul, who supports curtailing the powers of government. In his maverick stance, and that of his son, Senator Rand Paul, the young find a model for taking on the system as a personal quest.


Snowden becomes, in his fight, what Millennials look up to:

a charismatic individual, who by sheer power of self-belief can create support, even a movement.

The darker version of these charismatic individuals are the lone wolves who commit their acts of terror in plain view.

In Boston, the hijacking of a car and the revelation of his crime to its passenger was not simply a mistake or youthful stupidity on the part of the alleged bomber who survived. Tweeting his whereabouts, his thoughts, his feelings was apparently necessary to what he set out to do. Tweeting completed the act.


In Woolwich, the alleged killers of Drummer Rigby remained at the scene seemingly in order to be filmed for YouTube.

In the world of the Libertarian Millennial, the act is not complete without social media, without the bringing together of the crowd as receptor of their personal feelings, their manifesto.


And since it is embedded technology - which we wear on our bodies or will even have implanted inside our bodies - that is our future, more and more LMs will emerge, both as lone wolves - individuals out to do maximum physical harm and wreak mayhem in the name of a religion or a political ideology; or as charismatic individuals, people doing what they think is right, and through that effort, rallying people and movements around them.

Snowden has been quoted as having written:

“The consent of the governed is not consent if it is not informed.” And that “the truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped.”

His breed of Libertarian Millennial is coming, too.


It is they who cannot be stopped.