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

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

Assistant Marketing & PR Manager

£16 - £17 per hour: Ashdown Group: Marketing & PR Assistant - Kentish Town are...

Project Manager (App development, SAP, interfacing)

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum + excellent company benefits: Clearwater People Solu...

Systems Developer Technical Lead

£65000 - £70000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

Day In a Page

Read Next
James Foley's murder by Isis has shocked the West  

Today Isis is attacking the Middle East. Tomorrow it’ll be the West

James Bloodworth
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment