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Jesselyn Radack | The Nation | Reader Supported News | October 20, 2013
Last week I traveled to Russia with three other Americans to present former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden with the annual Sam Adams Associates Award for Integrity in Intelligence. Ray McGovern (retired CIA analyst), Thomas Drake (former NSA senior executive and whistleblower), Coleen Rowley (retired FBI agent and whistleblower), and I felt it especially important that Snowden receive this award from Americans who served the government in the national security and intelligence fields. Being the first Americans to see Snowden since he left Hong Kong, we all had serious concerns about our trip-not about getting into Russia, but about getting back into our own country. We left Washington, DC, having a lawyer on retainer and no electronics-cell phones, laptops or any of today’s normal lifelines-knowing that the United States could geo-locate our whereabouts and find Snowden, and also knowing we could have our devices searched and confiscated upon our return.
The Sam Adams Integrity Award is named for a CIA analyst who discovered in 1967 that there were more than a half-million Vietnamese Communists under arms-roughly twice the number that the US command in Saigon would admit to, lest Americans learn that claims of “progress” were bogus. Adams continued to press for honesty and accountability but stayed “inside channels”-and failed. He died at 55 of a heart attack, nagged by the thought that, had he not let himself be diddled, many lives might have been saved. We believe that Snowden exemplifies Sam Adams’s courage, persistence and devotion to truth-no matter what the consequences. We wanted Snowden to know that, as opposed to the daily vitriol from the US government and mainstream media, 60 percent of the United States supports him, including thousands in the national security and intelligence agencies where we used to work.
The first thing I’m universally asked is how Edward Snowden is doing. Given the extraordinary circumstances and pressure he’s under, Snowden is doing remarkably well. He’s warm and engaged, greeting us with long embraces. His is well-grounded, centered, and has a quick sense of humor, darkly joking that if he were a spy, Russia treats its spies much better than leaving them trapped in the Sheremetyevo transit zone for over a month. He is brilliant, humble and idealistic-in the best sense of the word. It is the sort of idealism that allows someone to undertake such a magnificent act of civil disobedience. It’s an idealism that believes the democracy he once knew can be reined in from the surveillance state it has become, if only the public knew what was going on. And it is this idealism that prevented him from contemplating being rendered effectively stateless by the country he risked his life to help, even if he did understand that he would be accused of espionage and could face life in jail.