HONG KONG, June 27: A lone hero is on the run, eluding a spy-hunt across a globe-trotting storyboard as he strives to expose wrongdoing at the heart of Washington's vengeful intelligence apparatus.
The script's ending is not yet written but that, for his supporters at least, is the Jason Bourne-style narrative of Edward Snowden. For them, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor's exposure of a many-tentacled eavesdropping campaign represents the made-for-Hollywood stand of one man fighting impossible odds.
For the US government, the leaks made by the 30-year-old IT specialist risk allowing extremists to plot and maim unhindered.
While Snowden has won sympathy internationally, Washington has cast him at best as a misguided fool, at worst as a traitorous villain in the pay of hostile powers.
Whatever the validity of his actions, the scene-shifting drama has made for a riveting spectacle that observers believe will eventually end up on the big screen.
The plot at times has strained credulity, but it is all real, starting with Snowden's decision in May to abandon his pole-dancing girlfriend in Hawaii for Hong Kong and a life on the run.
“Every spy novelist in the world is not writing at the moment, because they are glued to this—it is the biggest spy case there has been in decades,” Jeremy Duns, the author of three novels about a turncoat British agent in the Cold War, said.
Like other observers, Duns expects a movie or book tie-in before long to explore the nuances of a story that seems ripped from the pages of John le Carre, dwelling on themes of moral ambiguity, conflicted loyalties and outright betrayal.
Any adaptation of the Snowden saga will have to give prominent billing to the NSA, an organisation so secretive that it was once dubbed “No Such Agency”.
The NSA emerged from the shadows in the 1998 film “Enemy of the State”, featuring Will Smith and Gene Hackman.
Well before the 9/11 attacks, it covered the encroaching reach of the surveillance machine—one that in the movie's telling would stop at nothing, not even murder, to expand its powers and shield its secrets.
In comments dismissed by his critics as paranoid ravings, Snowden on June 17 evoked the threat of the US government “murdering me”, but said his stream of revelations could not be dammed.
“Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped,” he told Guardian readers, in what could pass for the tag line of a Hollywood film.
Snowden has injected a twist into the traditional plot. The unglamorous IT guy, munching on pizza as he beavers away at his laptop, is now the leading man.
“The geek in the van has become the Bourne,” said Duns, who has also written a history of the 1960s Soviet spy Oleg Penkovsky published this month.
A very modern American story: In fact, according to the Hollywood trade press, A-list director Michael Mann is working on a project tentatively called “Cyber” that will portray the US and Chinese militaries coming together to thwart a dangerous hacking conspiracy. Mann has been scouting locations in Hong Kong.
The Chinese territory was the setting for a month-long stay by Snowden that took in endless room-service meals at a boutique hotel in bustling Kowloon before he decamped in the dead of night to the homes of local supporters.—AFP