He looked as if he was not fed very well but he’s got the perfect haircut’, observed Russian MP Vyacheslav Nikonov after ‘whistleblower’ Edward Snowden, late of the United States’ National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, appeared before an invited audience of lawyers and human rights professionals inside the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.
Snowden’s ‘perfect haircut’ is short at the back and sides, longer out front and on top – the classic High School ‘sports cut’ grown up, grown out and gone wrong.
Snowden himself is a ‘perfect’ representative of the West’s disaffected middle class. Fine features in a WASP-ish complexion. Spectacles for seriousness-with-self-consciousness: rectangular lenses (antidote to the Vietnam-era aviator-shape), coloured, ‘creative class’ frames that speak supposedly sophisticated North European (parlez-vous Ikea?) in contrast to the allegedly crude dialect of Middle America.
Now 30, Snowden’s carrying a couple of days of apparently adolescent stubble. More beard (six months’ more, at this rate) and he could pass for Harold Shrinks, jazz musician father of cartoon-boy George Shrinks, who woke up to find himself three inches tall. Maybe that’s how Snowy will eventually make his escape from Moscow airport – as a miniature manikin in the pants pocket or hidden in the hand luggage of a human rights lawyer. Either that or send in Hollywood’s Edward Norton as a Snowden lookalike: stick a mole on Norton’s neck and roughen his pearly whites; the CIA won’t know which one to track.
Edward Snowden speaks like technical experts do when they expect to be listened to – quietly, confidently, a tad self-righteously. His self-righteousness is truly remarkable, and not only because Snowden’s CV contains a couple of discomfiting quirks (the distance learning MA he never completed; the computing course at John Hopkins which took place in a university building but wasn’t part of the main University).
As you already know – unless you’ve been grounded for a month in a transit camp without WiFi, Snowden is holed up in the world’s headlines because he swapped the chaste chasing down of alleged threats to national security for promiscuous humping of Uncle Sam’s state secrets. Or, the way he tells it, he was prostituting himself before, but now he’s come in off the street.
According to Snowden, he’s doing for the greater good. Working in Hawaii for the NSA, in his charmed life as a security contractor he was aiding and abetting the state in getting to know everything there is to know about the rest of us. In protest against the rise of repression, in defiance of the surveillance society, Snowden broke ranks and brokered a deal to reveal specified US security operations to selected news outlets, before revealing his own identity. Seeking to evade capture by American agents, he fled first to Hong Kong, then flew on to Russia where he has now applied for asylum.
Public opinion – domestic and international – is divided on Snowden: one’s hero is another’s traitor. But there is something new about Snowden which does not fit either of these pre-existing categories: his sense of entitlement. This is more remarkable than the revelation that friendly nations spy on each other (‘revelation’ as in ‘dog bites man’).
Snowden admits he had it all in Hawaii. But reading between the lines of the extended interview he gave in Hong Kong last month, it seems as if the job he was doing made it difficult for him to feel good about himself. He comes across as if spying was an affront to his well-being – the ethical equivalent of being asked to become obese. Really, the federal government should have found its operatives a way to work for the state and feel fine about it – that’s the least we’re entitled to, right?
It’s only right that Snowden is thought to have been staying in the ‘capsule-hotel’ inside Sheremetyevo airport. Located next to the mother and baby room in Terminal E, Level 5, it looks as if specially created for the pages of Wallpaper magazine or Monocle: futuristic but in a way which – whether out of cynicism or naivete – hasn’t quite shaken off the 1960s vision of the future. It’s a Retro-Futuro Thing. Of course Snowden and Wallpaper readers alike will be wise to this, whereas the Head of Homeland Security – and all those other personality types that live in the realm of realpolitik – would not be expected to get it, geddit?
The scare marks that Snowden and his camp have put around this whole saga, up to and including the ‘capsule hotel’ he may have been staying in, marks them out as people who expect to be – tastefully and morally – in the know and in the right; moreover, they expect the world to be set up for them to stay that way. In Snowden’s case, for ‘seriousness-with-self-consciousness’ read ‘entitlement-with-self-consciousness’. Except with regard to the element of entitlement itself. This is so deeply embedded in his character he’s bound to remain unconscious of it.