The best thing our government could do for itself is this: offer Snowden a plea deal as sweet as he could get. Two felonies, 18 months in Club Fed, call it good and let him go. The only chance America has to minimize the political impact of Snowden’s releases would be if the DOJ could get him to say “I’m guilty” and fade into obscurity after just enough time for people to forget him.
To lose him altogether is to make him a legend, but to capture him and prosecute him is to make him a legend and a martyr. People want to be legends. They want to be cried over, remembered with awe and respect, to be written into history… young, computer savvy people especially. But this urge isn’t new. The medieval church had no shortage of heretics to burn, not because word didn’t get out, but because it did. Human yearn to have meaningful lives and glorious deaths, if they didn’t, why would they enlist in institutions like the US Military? Through hunt and persecution the US is offering Snowden a life of glory and praise and an honorable persecution and death. By the very principles it goes on about to recruit young people, high-minded people, it offers Snowden the most praiseworthy of lives.
You may say, but Ed Snowden didn’t do this for glory. He didn’t think himself a legend, a figure of history. To which I say sure, that’s probably true at this point. But I’m talking about the next 20 Snowdens. Each one will be more elaborate than the last, each learning from the others, until they do more than dump secrets. They will evolve as they learn to look for more glory in the cruelty of the US Government. They always have.