In sum, Snowden appears to have not calculated the long-term ramifications of going on the lam. "He's sort of like the Tsarnaev brothers," Pike says, in reference to the pair accused of the Boston Marathon bombings. "There was no follow-up plan. He just thought this one brief moment of glory was going to bend history, and he had no plan after that. He's going to be radioactive until the end of time."
And there is this: He's made no secret of what he did or why. He has effectively confessed to everything. That makes it harder for any harboring nation to plead ignorance of the facts or accept that this is all purely political. Saying he did it to defend an important constitutional principle has won great admiration from some quarters, but it will probably hold about as much weight in court as the arguments of tax dodgers who insist that the 16th Amendment was never ratified.
A 1970s escape that worked
That said, it is not impossible that Snowden may yet rise above these myriad difficulties and forever elude the long arm of the law. That is what has happened with JoAnne Chesimard, or, as she has been known for decades now, Assata Shakur.
Back in 1973, she was a member of the Black Liberation Army and implicated by authorities in a series of violent, radical activities, including bank robbery and kidnapping. When she and some cohorts were stopped by state troopers on the New Jersey Turnpike, a hellish gun battle erupted, leaving a trooper and one of her companions dead. After a lot of legal fits and starts, in which many of the previous charges withered away, Shakur was convicted and sent to prison for murder.
But she did not stay there. In 1979, armed members of the BLA staged a jail break. Shakur eluded the best efforts by police to track her down, aided by people who believed her claim that she had been wrongly imprisoned for her political beliefs. After a few years, she sought greater security by fleeing to Cuba. Just this spring, the FBI made her the first woman ever on its list of top 10 terrorists. And yet she still lives freely just 90 miles from Florida, where with the help of the Cuban government she has defied calls for her extradition year after year.
Can Snowden again beat the odds and pull off such an escape, to spend the rest of his life posting polemics against Big Brother and sipping mojitos? "I just don't know," says Jones, the former Obama adviser. "To me it looks like some crazy James Bond movie, but no one has written the third act, so I don't know how it all ends."
Speaking of movies, near the end of the hit film "Catch Me If You Can," there's a scene that Snowden might do well to watch while he's killing time in the airport lounge (or wherever he is) pondering his fate. The young forger, Frank Abagnale, who has been staying a step ahead of the feds, finally grows irritated and fatigued. Not because they are particularly skilled in their hunting, nor because they are getting closer, but simply because they won't give up. In a fit of pique, he blurts into the phone, "Stop chasing me!" On the other end, the dogged, bureaucratic Treasury agent, Carl Hanratty, answers, "I can't stop. It's my job."
Ultimately, this is why many people who have been involved in such matters believe Snowden will be caught. Because no matter how much he may love sticking it to the U.S. government and waving the banner of truth, justice, and freedom of speech, that mission will prove largely unsustainable without serious fundraisers, organizers and dedicated allies working on his behalf for a long time.
They'll have to make Edward Snowden their living, because those who are chasing him already have. Government agents will be paid every minute of every day for as long as it takes. Seasons may change and years may pass, but the odds say that one morning, he'll look out of a window, go for a walk or stop for a cup of coffee, and the trap will spring shut. It will be almost like a movie.