Snowden Pere Will Have To Walk a Fine Line in Russia
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Lon Snowden is off to Russia to meet with his son, Edward Snowden, the former intelligence contractor who disclosed secrets of America’s surveillance programs. He says he wants to discuss with his son how to fight the espionage charges laid against him. Fair enough.
He might, however, want to avoid helping his son buy a car.
That was one mistake made by another famous father, Hans Max Haupt, who was living in Illinois in June 1942, when his son, Herbert, fetched up at the house. His parents were all too happy to put him up, and his father helped him purchase an automobile. That led to the father’s conviction in a case that became the first time the Supreme Court ever sustained a conviction of treason.
It turned out that days before the younger Haupt showed up at his father’s house, he’d been delivered to America by a German U-Boat, dropped off along with several other Nazi agents at a Florida beach. A band of their fellow saboteurs were landed on Long Island; two defected and fingered their co-conspirators.
It is not my purpose here to suggest that Edward Snowden committed treason. On the basis of what’s come out so far, that would be an impossible stretch. The Constitution establishes that treason may consist only of levying war or adhering to our enemies, giving them both aid and comfort.
It is my purpose, however, to suggest that pere Snowden will want to be careful. His son may appear to be shy of treason, but war is being levied against us. So we are in what I call a “time of treason” — a time when it is possible for treason to be committed. And we don’t yet know all the facts about Edward Snowden’s deeds.
In the case of Hans Max Haupt, things moved with what, in light of today’s lackadaisical legal climate, seems incredible speed. The first band of agents landed at Amagansett on June 13, 1942. They were spotted by the Coast Guard; two decided to give up. They got to Manhattan and phoned the FBI, which didn’t believe them.
On June 17, Herbert Haupt came ashore at Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., then caught a train to Chicago, where his parents took him in. Meantime the defecting saboteurs had gone to Washington, walked into FBI headquarters, dumped onto a desk $84,000 in cash they’d been supplied for their mission and demanded to be taken to J. Edgar Hoover.
The Haupt son was arrested on June 27. President Franklin Roosevelt didn’t bother with civilian courts: He tried the saboteurs before a military commission, where they were convicted of being enemy agents. The Supreme Court OK’d the military commission on July 31. Six of the saboteurs got the chair, and by Aug. 8, justice was done.
What lingers from the case — aside from the precedent of using a military commission — is the fate of the father. Hans Max Haupt was arraigned several weeks after his son’s arrest and charged with treason. The overt acts were giving his son a place to stay and buying him a 1941 Pontiac (it cost $1,045).
Haupt pere tried to defend himself by suggesting these were the kinds of things — “commonplace, insignificant and colorless,” as Justice Robert Jackson would later put it — that any father would do for a son. The Supreme Court sustained his conviction, and he was given a life sentence. Eventually he was deported to Germany.
There are many differences between the case of Hans Max Haupt and the predicament of Lon Snowden. Haupt was a traitor; Lon Snowden is a loyal American who spent a career in the Coast Guard.
Both, however, wanted to help a son who was in deep trouble in a time of war. The moral of the story is not that a father can do nothing. But whatever he does, he will want to take care that his own actions don’t themselves become a crime.