Illustration: Jim Pavlidis.
In traditional accounts of Hell, sinners end up with punishments that fit their crimes. Rumour-mongers have their tongues cut out; usurers wear chains of burning gold. On this basis, it will be entirely fitting if Edward Snowden spends eternity in a Moscow airport lounge.
Having betrayed his own state, the man who revealed the secrets of the United States' National Security Agency needs to find out what it is like to live at the mercy of other states. Acting in the name of a morality that disdains allegiance to the rule of national law, he deserves to see what life is like beyond its protection. When he thought that Ecuador was going to give him political asylum, he wrote an oily letter to its president in which he declared that the US system of surveillance was ''a grave violation of our universal human rights''. Now let him find out how hollow those rights are when not guaranteed within a democratic legal order. Let him eat the free peanuts in the transit lounge of life, and learn, too late, what is needed to defend a free people.
I gather that WikiLeaks worshippers have been disappointed that the citizens of America have not acclaimed Snowden's courage or been shocked by his revelations. Public opinion seems to have given a worldly shrug and said, ''Obviously, our secret services spy on us in cyberspace; what's all the fuss?''
But if that is the only public reaction, it is inadequate. In the Cold War era, when people were convicted of handing secrets to the Soviet Union, they were reviled as traitors. They were assisting a hostile totalitarian power. Edward Snowden is not apparently working for such a power, and so he is not seen in this way. He is criticised as vain or silly or naive. Not enough people see the degree of his betrayal.
First, he has broken his oath. He has betrayed colleagues. From now on, all contractors like himself will be seen as suspect. He has also betrayed individual officers and agents. He revealed, for example, that a bug had been planted in the crypto-machine of the European Union mission in Washington. So now everyone who got near that machine will be under investigation.
Worse still, Snowden betrayed methods. If it is known that, say, a particular means of getting bulk access to undersea cables is used, that means is compromised. Disclosure also betrays allies. One of the positive developments in intelligence since September 11, 2001, has been the concept of ''dare to share''. Countries that previously had little contact have seen the benefits of exchanging information. Now they will see its perils.
Even Britain, whose intelligence co-operation with America is probably uniquely deep in the history of the world, feels a little shaken now that what it told the NSA has been shared with the readers of The Guardian. And since no one (except, one strongly suspects, the Russians) knows what Snowden may still have up his sleeve - or, rather, deep in his laptop - there is a danger of paralysis.
The obvious beneficiaries of all of this are not civil liberties. They are those who wish to embarrass the West - the Chinese, who can now push back against US attempts to expose their cyber attacks on American government and industry, Vladimir Putin, German leftists, South American populists and the sort of rent-a-mobs who are so confused that they burn the French flag in La Paz.
Whatever the precise intention, the actual effect of the WikiLeakers and Snowdens is always to make life harder for the West. The web, which they love so much they make it their God, is hated and feared by countries such as China. Yet WikiLeaks never furnishes us with Chinese ''whistleblowers''.
But if the consequences of all this were confined to political game-playing, they would matter little. They are not. Snowden has identified the most important area of intelligence in the digital age and is trying to undermine it. Since 9/11, we have learnt that the greatest threats to peace need not be led by states, and can be inspired and even concerted electronically. No intelligence agency can do its job if it does not keep ahead of every relevant technological change.
Just as, a century ago, the secret services had to learn to bug telephones, so, today, they must learn to sift the unimaginably large amount of data that the web contains. In order to find the needle of, say, terrorism, in the great haystack of human interaction, they need to winnow each blade of dried grass. Computers, not people, do that. People (intelligence officers) only come into play when the needle shows up. If you want to stop your citizens being bombed or beheaded, such methods of search are not optional; they are primary.
This being so, the agencies that deal with communications, such as the NSA, have become ever more important. They know more, and there is more to know. In the Arab Spring, for instance, and in the West's intervention against Colonel Gaddafi in Libya, they provided information that traditional human intelligence could not. This week in Cairo, as Arab Spring turns to burning, contentious summer, Western governments will be learning far more from their communications monitoring than they will from ambassadors watching nervously from behind the curtains in the diplomatic quarter.
One of the most important things they will learn is how what happens on Egyptian streets will affect Islamist extremists elsewhere. To be even remotely safe, our new world of connectivity needs security vigilance just as surely as motorways need speed cameras and traffic police. You need to follow what the spooks call ''the electronic exhaust''.
The dangers of too much state power undoubtedly exist. It would be weird if conservatives, who rightly worry about the state's intrusion into economic and cultural life, were to look the other way when it comes to privacy and security. Arguments about how governments treat ''bulk data'' and what commercial service providers should disclose to the state - or sell to others - matter. People who say to the security services, ''I couldn't care less what you do so long as you keep us safe,'' are false friends to them. But the issues can only be discussed properly if people stop pretending that ''transparency'' is a concept that trumps all others, and that our ''secret state'' acts without rules.
The reality is that today's James Bond is constantly accompanied not by Pussy Galore or a martini, but by a lawyer. The intelligence services of Western powers such as the US and Britain are governed by acts of Parliament, their methods are invigilated by former judges and their most senior officers are questioned by parliamentary committees.
Indeed, it is no accident that the greatest trust in the intelligence world is that between Britain, America, Australia, New Zealand and Canada - sometimes known in this field as the Five Eyes. This exists because of a common experience of kinship, language, war and living under law-based liberty. It is emphatically not the product of untrammelled state power but of a culture that knows that its eyes (five pairs being better than one) need to scan the horizon to stay free.
There is a heresy about the web, which is that it emancipates its user from his duty to his neighbour and his country. In reality, it is the product of free countries, not a replacement for them. Edward Snowden is a devotee of this false doctrine, not a martyr for the truth.
Charles Moore is a former editor of The Spectator and The Daily Telegraph, London.