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.

2 thoughts on “It’s 2013, and We’re Talking About Someone Defecting to the Reds

  1. IP Dragon

    To leak a more nuanced view on Lamma Island: it has its fair share of law abiding typhoon fearing citizens, an IP aficionado, and one hippie who just arrived (although via drug induced time-warping).

  2. D

    Those who seriously thinks Snowden would defect to China are probably not thinking like Snowden:

    1) He would not defect to China. Why? Because why would he unveil (actually, it was unveiled years ago) a “secret” surveillance program in the US, only to then go to a ciountry that monitors its citizens more and gives its citizens fewer civil liberties?

    2) Hong Kong is the best place for Snowden to be. Whether he stayed in Hong Kong strategically or just by accident happened to be there when this all happened, Hong Kong is his best place to be:
    a) Hong Kong has dozens of small islands to hide
    b) Hong Kong has a very fast communications infrastructure, so he can get what he needs done there
    c) There are, believe it or not, sympathizers to Snowden’s plight in both the high levels of the local Hong Kong police and in the upper echelons of the HK government. Snowden will have friends there.
    d) Where else should he go? If he goes to Singapore, they provide few civil liberties to their people and would be happy to turn Snowden over to the US to retain good relations. Korea, Taiwan, and Japan are in the same situation as Singapore. If he goes to Western Europe or South America, most of those countries also have solid extradition and reciprocal ties with the US. So, again, Snowden is at risk. Hong Kong is the best place for him to be.

    We should avoid worrying so much about PRISM and instead focus on Echelon…..