i Editor's Letter: Snowdon is not the first and he will not be the last


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If Edward Snowden makes it to South America – having chosen the mountain city Quito, a world heritage site, over the beaches near Caracas – he will spend the rest of his life looking over both shoulders.

The intelligence whistleblower’s extraordinary escape from Hawaii via Hong Kong and Moscow has enraged the Obama administration, which is proving itself the most retributive in the short history of the US. Under all previous presidents, just three men were prosecuted for leaking classified files, starting with the Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. Under Obama, Snowden is the seventh to be charged.

The fate of Bradley Manning, the soldier who leaked thousands of diplomatic cables and military reports, is incentive enough to flee for the Andes. Perhaps Ecuador’s President Correa could open a sort of early retirement hostel for enemies of the US.

There will be many more Snowdens and Mannings: the transfer of data is now so easy, the potential to project grievances or expose wrongdoings exponential. Contrary governments such as those of Ecuador and Venezuela will be content to shelter leakers – and superpowers will enjoy tacitly supporting the humiliation of a rival, as Moscow and a gleeful Beijing have done here.

Snowden’s revelations, aside from sparking an international debate about the proper limits of government surveillance, have damaged US diplomacy and knocked the President off his perch during critical trade talks with the Chinese.

How dirty is Washington willing to play, to halt this ebb of power? Alarming murder rates, some of these South American capitals!


I wish i’s columnist Amol Rajan, my contemporary here, all the best as he takes the reins at our sister title The Independent today. In answer to several readers’ messages, Amol’s elevation will leave him less time to write, alas. But our office will ring with his infectious chuckle.

Twitter.com: @olyduff