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

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

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
 

If I were Prime Minister: I'd end the war on drugs

Patrick Hennessey
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power