You remember the 1980 movie “Hopscotch,” don’t you? Walter Matthau played a rogue CIA agent who was publishing a book about the secrets of the CIA. He managed to elude the CIA agents pursuing him with the help of several sympathetic people in a number of countries who all relished thumbing their noses at the bumbling Americans.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
What exactly did the United States think was going to happen? Did they think that countries like China and Russia, countries we’ve been publicly excoriating for years about, ah, spying on their citizens, were going to be helpful when we were chasing after a rogue computer geek who had announced to the world that we were, ah, spying on our citizens as well? Did we really think they were going to send him back to us?
Or did we think the Chinese and Russians would be happy to do whatever we wanted just because we are…Americans?
And how long can you be in transit in Sheremetyevo Airport, anyway?
I can answer that question. Quite a while.
Back in the good old bad old days of the Cold War, an American friend of ours was en route from Hong Kong to Helsinki to attend a conference. The plane he was on had some technical difficulties and had to make a landing at Sheremetyevo. Of course, he had no papers for Russia (he had not been planning on going to Russia), so when he arrived there unexpectedly, he was asked to follow a customs agent and was put, by himself, in a distant room, to wait for…well, actually he wasn’t sure what exactly he was waiting for.
The agent locked the door behind her.
After two days had passed, our friend understood they had forgotten him. As he was a body building fanatic, he managed to take advantage of the excellent quality of Russian airport terminal construction and ripped through one of the walls of his room with his bare hands. He crawled out through an air vent, emerging in the middle of the night out into the transit hall…to the utter amazement of a lone guard standing nearby.
“Do you speak English?” our friend asked, his clothes and hair festooned with plaster.
“Do you?” the man shot back, incredulous.
Our friend was delivered back to the agents who had forgotten him. They were horrified. His baggage was all still there. They had no food to give him, (it was the middle of the night) but someone found some beer. He was finally put on a plane to Finland the next day.
Of course, I’m not suggesting anyone is going to forget Mr. Snowden. How could they? Half the world’s press is lurking around outside the transit hall of Sheremetyevo Airport. The other half took a plane to Cuba yesterday. Not that anyone’s found him or anything. He’s squirreled away in one of those rooms our friend broke out of. Though I’m sure the Russian agents remembered to feed him and he didn’t have to relieve himself in a corner. Anyway, we know Mr. Snowden doesn’t mind staying in an enclosed space. He told them that in Hong Kong. As long as he can have his computer with him. As I understand it, it was the possibility of sitting in a jail cell without a computer while waiting for his asylum status to be reviewed that put him off staying in Hong Kong. On to Russia, despite all the demands of the United States government.
Yes, indeed, very embarrassing.
Why, the United States is starting to get positively screechy. No one is listening to us. No one is doing what we want. Why it’s enough to make you want to stamp your foot and scream! Someone needs to tell John Kerry to stop sounding so petulant. He’d be better off doing a Lady Mary, the character in “Downton Abbey,” who when things weren’t going well, always maintained a pained, frosty silence. Of course, everyone knew she was miserable, and they also all knew why, but you didn’t see her making a spectacle of herself, did you?
My suggestion to our government is make the best of a bad job and stop asking for Mr. Snowden. My suggestion to the Russians is to put Mr. Snowden on a plane for South America as quickly as they can. My suggestion to Mr. Snowden is to get used to a new sort of life, a life you can’t quit when you get bored or find something that disappoints or offends you.
My suggestion to the world’s press is to go home and cover something else. Mr. Snowden will go to Ecuador with his four computers. I just hope that when he gets there they give him a room with a view, or at least one with a good internet connection.