By now the world knows that Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, leaked classified documents and exposed programs and practices alleged to have violated constitutional and other legal protections afforded American citizens.
Snowden released his bombshells while in Hong Kong, where he remained for some time before being granted temporary asylum in Russia following a protracted and bizarre period of purgatory in the international transit lounge of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.
Time will tell whether Snowden’s disclosures saved lives, cost lives, fostered greater privacy protections or forced clandestine activities to become even more clandestine. But there’s little question that Snowden attracted so much attention in part because of his extraordinary odyssey.
Whistleblowers, patriots, even leakers with ill intent come and go, but few have spent as much time in undisclosed locations or in international air transit lounges as Snowden.
Indeed, the media – and I, for that matter – thought Snowden’s travels and travails utterly unique until, unexpectedly, another remarkable whistleblower turned up, in all places, at the Yarmouth Visitors’ Center just off Interstate 295 Exit 17.
I stumbled upon this intrepid soul, whom I’ll call “Deep Clam,” just last week, hiding behind a rotary display of tourism information and campground literature.
“Pssst! Buddy! Over here,” he hissed. “No, here. By the drinking fountain.”
And there he was, a slender, bespectacled young man, looking gaunt, tired and more than a little desperate.
“What’s the matter? What do you want?” I asked.
“I’ve got information. It’s too hot to handle, and they’re after me. Here – take this flash drive!” He grabbed my hand and tried desperately to press it into my palm, before engaging me in a panicky stare. “Please! You’ve got to get this to the media. It’s urgent! Lives are at stake – especially mine!”
I took a step back. This was a man clearly at the end of his tether. He had a lean and hungry look. Fear was etched into his face, and he obviously hadn’t slept in days.
“What do you mean, ‘take this to the media’? Why don’t you just send it to The Guardian, or post it online? What’s the big deal?”
“Are you crazy? They’re after me already. If they catch me, I’m as good as done. But you … no one knows you. You can take this and help me distribute it. This is huge. Trust me!”
Seeing how agitated he was, I tried a different tack and adopted a more sympathetic affect.
“Slow down, friend. I’m sure we can figure something out. But first, tell me: What are you doing here at the Yarmouth Visitors’ Center?”
He relaxed ever so slightly and, casting furtive glances over his shoulders, began, “I was leaving Augusta on my way to New Hampshire, where I was to meet an investigative journalist. He had agreed to take this information and share it with WikiLeaks. But he sent word that he was stuck in traffic.”
“Well,” I said, “this is a busy time of year. The Hampton Toll Plaza can be a real mess on a Friday –” He cut me off.
“That was three weeks ago, you idiot!” he bleated. “Don’t you see? They got to him! That’s why I’ve got to stay here!”
“Who got to him? What information do you have that could possibly be so explosive?”
“It concerns Gov. LePage and his … policies,” he continued, looking more frightened and desperate than ever.
“Go on,” I said.
“I was at a fundraiser, and I heard him say things that will shock the world. I’ll be a marked man if this gets out and they catch me!”
By now he had piqued my interest. All of us know that our governor is given to outbursts and fits of temper, but what fresh information, what juicy treasure trove did this poor soul have to share about policies, of all things?
“Promise me,” he said, “that if anything happens to me, you’ll see to my family,” and with that he shoved the flash drive into my hand and ran into the men’s room. He was gone.
That night I opened my laptop and nervously inserted the flash drive.
I double-clicked, and there it was, on letterhead from the governor’s office.
“Plans for a Possible Second Term,” it began. And then:
1. Launch renewable energy initiative – subsidize wind and solar.
2. Call White House for help implementing Affordable Care Act.
3. Restore all cuts to social services.
4. Reinstall mural at Department of Labor.
“Deep Clam” was afraid that if this document ever saw the light of day, his days would be numbered, but personally, I don’t think he has much to worry about.
Even if this information does become public, no one will ever believe it.
Perry B. Newman is a South Portland resident and president of Atlantica Group, an international business consulting firm based in Portland, with clients in North America, Israel and Europe. He is also chairman of the Maine District Export Council. His website is perrybnewman.com.