Snowden’s New Identity

by David Satter

Recent events have shed some light on the Putin regime’s plans for the NSA leaker, Edward Snowden.

The first development: A group of former national-security officials met with Snowden Wednesday and honored him as a “whistleblower.” The group is called the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence. Without wishing to give this group additional publicity, its existence is powerful evidence that our national-security agencies are as vulnerable to penetration by crackpots as any place else.

A whistleblower, of course, exposes illegal activity, not legal activity whose secrecy he has pledged to uphold. What makes the award all the more absurd, however, is that it is taking place in Russia, where the authorities’ reaction to Alexander Litvinenko, a genuine whistleblower who exposed the FSB’s involvement in assassination plans and the blowing up of civilian apartment buildings, was to have him killed.

In fact, meetings in Russia like that between Snowden and the Sam Adams group are not left to chance. Seemingly ridiculous, they are part of an effort to craft an identity for Snowden that is more attractive than his real identity, one that is controlled by the Russian authorities and from which he cannot escape.

Not coincidentally, Snowden’s father arrived in Moscow last Thursday. Lon Snowden has had no direct contact with his son and he admitted on arrival that he had no idea whether he would even meet him. Snowden can be contacted only through Anatoly Kucherena, his Russian lawyer and a political supporter of Putin’s. Kucherena says that he is providing Snowden with reading matter and that Snowden is learning Russian. The prospect now is for more awards to Snowden as a “whistleblower” and “human-rights defender.” But apart from the carefully orchestrated appearances, there is likely to be little word from Snowden himself. Snowden may never understand the gravity of what he has done but most defectors to Russia have, in time, come to regret their actions. The Russians don’t want to take that chance. This is why there is likely to be little freedom for Snowden until the Russians are certain that he has fully assimilated the heroic image they are crafting for him – and, as a result, has fallen totally under their control.  

— David Satter is affiliated with the Hudson Institute, Johns Hopkins University and the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. His latest book is It Was a Long Time Ago and It Never Happened Anyway: Russia and the Communist Past. He is now living in Moscow.