The last thing President Barack Obama wants to do is turn Edward Snowden into a grand enemy of the state or a Daniel Ellsberg-type hero who speaks truth to power.
In the shifting narrative of the Obama administration, the man whose leaks of top-secret material about government surveillance programs have tied the national security apparatus in knots and brought charges under the Espionage Act has now been demoted to a common fugitive unworthy of international intrigue or extraordinary pursuit by the U.S. government.
A “29-year-old hacker,” in the words of Obama; fodder for a made-for-TV movie, perhaps, but not much more.
“This is not exceptional from a legal perspective,” the president said Thursday of Snowden’s efforts to avoid capture by hopscotching from Hawaii to Hong Kong to Russia.
“I’m not going to have one case of a suspect who we’re trying to extradite suddenly being elevated to the point where I’ve got to start doing wheeling and dealing and trading on a whole host of other issues simply to get a guy extradited,” the president told reporters in Senegal.
It was the second time in a week that the administration had toned down its rhetoric as Snowden remained out of reach and first China and then Russia refused to send him back.