Just last Monday, Edward Snowden, who leaked massive quantities of classified information about top-secret U.S. government surveillance programs before fleeing the country, was being denounced by the Obama administration as a traitor whose acts are "despicable and beyond description."
Congress demanded that the U.S. government exert its massive power to have Snowden returned to face a charge of theft of government property and two offenses under the espionage act.
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, described Snowden, 30, as a ne'er-do-well, "a high-school dropout who had a whole series of both academic troubles and employment troubles."
The idea now is to portray Snowden as less than "Reilly, Ace of Spies" and First Amendment crusader and more as a low-level employee of a subcontractor, not the fabled National Security Agency itself, who lucked into a trove of highly classified data that he then shared with Britain's Guardian newspaper and The Washington Post.
President Barack Obama, on a trip to Africa, described him as a "hacker" and he didn't want the case "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 said he would not take up the issue with the leaders of China, where Snowden first fled, or Russia, where he is said to be holed up in the transit lounge of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, supposedly awaiting permission to travel to Ecuador, where he has sought sanctuary, or possibly elsewhere.
As anyone who has been forced to spend the night in an airport terminal can attest, being trapped in a transit lounge indefinitely — Ecuador says it may take months to decide on sanctuary for Snowden — is its own kind of purgatory.
And it may be beginning to tell on Snowden, who has surely by now exhausted the excitement of the duty-free shops and the limited choice of fast food.
His father, Lonnie Snowden, who insists he has not had direct contact with his son, says Edward might return voluntarily if he were allowed to go free before trial, was not subject to a gag order and could pick the location of his trial, an offer the Justice Department is sure to refuse.
Deprived of his U.S. passport, Edward Snowden is condemned to wander the halls of the Sheremetyevo transit lounge until Ecuador makes up its mind, never a quick process under the best of circumstances. The South American nation's dilemma is further complicated because hundreds of millions of dollars of trade with the U.S. are at risk.
Perhaps Snowden thinks that if he's holed up and harmless, Obama and whoever follows him in the White House will forget about him. Osama bin Laden no doubt thought something similar.