It’s 2013, and We’re Talking About Someone Defecting to the Reds

June 14, 2013

The most recent blah blah blah about NSA whistleblower Eddie Snowden, now running about somewhere in Hong Kong (I’m guessing Lamma Island, with all the other hippies), is that he may defect to the PRC with all his ill-gotten intelligence booty. To which I question: with the Cold War decades behind us, what does it mean to “defect” anyway?

Here’s the sort of thing I’m seeing in the funny papers today:

U.S. intelligence officials on the trail of rogue contractor Edward Snowden are now treating the National Security Agency leak case as a possible foreign espionage matter, raising fears that the 29-year-old computer whiz may be attempting to defect to China with a trove of America’s most sensitive secrets, according to U.S. officials. (ABC News)

OK, so technically, defection refers to illegally switching sides (nation-wise). Back in the day, if you wanted to defect, you had to jump over the Berlin Wall, crash a U.S. Embassy, or slink off after an overseas tour performance of the Bolshoi Ballet. That was when folks behind the Iron Curtain couldn’t travel anywhere, and defecting, first and foremost, meant illegally fleeing one jurisdiction for another with permanent exile in mind.

If Snowden comes over to the Red side, then yeah, that would be a defection. He would be (or has?) fled the U.S. after committing an illegal act, and if he was accepted by the PRC, he would be taking up residence here as an American exile. Funky.

What makes the whole thing very different from the 50s and 60s, however, is that there is no Iron Curtain (except in North Korea), and gazillions of folks travel between the U.S. and China on a regular basis. Some of us even live and work here for long periods of time.

Let me try and wrap my head around this. Maybe next month I could be walking home from work, strolling down Da Wang Lu past the Armani store, and I could casually pass this kid on the sidewalk, an American defector who has chosen to switch sides. I don’t know about you, but I find that extremely weird and not at all in keeping with the classic notion of a defector. As the philosopher Paul Simon once said: these are days of miracles and wonders.

With respect to overall Snowden issues, I honestly don’t care all that much. The guy is some sort of idealist, which is cool. He also broke the law and might some day get punished for that. This is what happens to conscientious objectors, after all. I actually haven’t been paying all that much attention to the specifics, but if the disclosures include evidence of outright lying by the U.S. government, then I would consider Snowden’s act to be commendable.

On the other hand, if all he comes up with is that the U.S. is spying on its citizens, it has hacked/is hacking China and other “shocking” revelations, then {yawn} he has probably wasted everyone’s time and screwed up his life for no reason. That’s what happens to idealists, unfortunately.

There’s been a lot of crap written about this story, so I won’t give you a long list of links. However, I did want to point you to Richard Burger’s post on The Peking Duck, which I found to be blunt, fair, and devoid of bullshit. Of particular import is the discussion on how America got into this mess in the first place — allowing its government to run roughshod over the Constitution following 9/11 (my words, not Richard’s).

Ya sows what ya reaps, suckers. America is still paying for its collective freak-out over a decade ago. Whenever I talk about 9/11, I usually get in trouble, so I’ll stop there. Suffice it to say that all of this could have been avoided, including at least one war, if your average Joe Sixpack had taken a few deep breaths back in 2001 and chilled out.

Have a nice weekend. Should be pleasant here in Beijing — excellent defection weather.