The worst is yet to come: Edward Snowden faces a sad and lonely future

History has shown life isn't kind to US intelligence insiders gone rogue

Share
Related Topics

Edward Snowden, the man behind the disclosure of secret documents on US surveillance activities, faces a sad and lonely future. Germany's asylum denial and the White House's rejection of clemency for the former National Security Agency-contractor-turned-whistle-blower, foreshadows a life on the run. His mediocre career and one-page “manifesto,” suggest limited prospects as a turncoat spook or as a critic of US spy agencies. More important, history shows life isn't kind to US intelligence insiders gone rogue.

The story of Central Intelligence Agency operative Philip Agee sheds light on what kind of future Snowden can expect. Agee was the Edward Snowden of the pre-Internet generation. He gained attention for writing “Inside the Company: CIA Diary,” an account of his days as a spy (mostly in Latin America) and the first of five books in an anti-CIA campaign in the 1970s and 1980s during which he outed a world-wide network of more than 4,000 covert operatives.

As with Snowden, many journalists, left-wing governments and other US detractors initially hailed Agee as a hero. But soon the world became less welcoming. Agee was well received in Britain where he fought a U.S. extradition request until he was forced to leave for the Netherlands in 1977. He was eventually expelled from the Netherlands and a host of other US friendly nations, such as France, Italy and West Germany, and lived in Grenada and Nicaragua before finally settling in Cuba under Fidel Castro (the type of regime he once worked to undermine).

Snowden has pointed to US intelligence reviews to justify his decision to leak details of a mass telephone and Internet surveillance program by US spy agencies to the press. But that will hardly win him clemency. Indeed, in Agee's case several US administrations showed an inclination to make his life hell. Agee's exposes prompted U.S. lawmakers to enact the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, which criminalized unmasking covert agents. Moreover, Snowden could expect the United States to eventually strip him of his passport as Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance did with Agee in 1979 (Secretary of State George Shultz denied Agee a passport again in 1987).

Snowden has also exposed himself to charges that could haunt him his entire life. Just as Agee's detractors often attributed the death of CIA Athens station head Richard Welch to his leaks, House Intelligence Committee Chairman, Mike Rogers, has already blamed Snowden's revelations for a change in how several terrorist organizations communicate.

The career prospects for Snowden look even bleaker. He could write a book, but there is just so much more Snowden could reveal. Agee was a brilliant graduate from the University of Notre Dame and had an 11-year experience as an agent stationed in Ecuador, Uruguay and Mexico, before he left to write his books. After his exposes, Shultz accused Agee of being a paid adviser to Cuban intelligence and of training Nicaraguan security agents. But that is hardly an open career path for the 30-year-old Snowden, a high-school dropout with limited spy- craft experience.

Snowden's idealism also stands in stark contrast to Agee's motivations. Agee became a convinced leftist who sought to help U.S. enemy regimes during the Cold War. Snowden's belief that his leaks will help end what he calls the US's “harmful behavior” shows a lack of sophistication. As technology evolves, so will the ability of governments to spy on each other.

Even a man of Agee's intelligence was left with no options late in life. For a few years before his death in Havana in 2008, Agee ran Cubalinda.com, an online travel agency that catered to Americans adventurous enough to visit to Cuba in defiance of the U.S. trade embargo. If Snowden can somehow avoid capture and jail, he has little more to look forward to than a lifetime in the shadows, or as the anti-US trophy of regimes where the freedom of information he claims to defend doesn't exist.

Raul Gallegos is the Latin American correspondent for Bloomberg View's World View blog.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Army reservist Corporal James Dunsby  

Whether it’s in the City, the Army or at school, this ritual sadism has to stop

Chris Blackhurst
Caitlyn Jenner, the transgender Olympic champion formerly known as Bruce, unveiled her new name on Monday  

'I'm the happiest I've been for a long time and I finally know where I fit': Here's why role models matter for trans kids

Susie Green
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific