Certain political developments of the recent years feel far stranger and more terrifying than House of Cards could aspire to be, but the show's fifth season still manages to explore some worst-case scenario alternatives to actual events. (Spoilers ahead for Season 5 of House Of Cards!) The United States is still reeling from the classified information former National Security Agency employee Edward Snowden released to the public in 2013. And the United States of House Of Cards almost faces a similar crisis when Aidan Macallan, a hacker who used to work with the Underwoods, threatens to leak information about the First Couple, specifically the details of his work to benefit their political interests. But is the House Of Cards leak based on Edward Snowden and the NSA leaks?
In 2013, Snowden gave a series of interviews to journalists from The Guardian and gave them permission to release his identity as the perpetrator of the NSA leak. "I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong," Snowden said. Some called him a "whistleblower," others a "traitor." The information released by the former NSA employee revealed the extent of the agency's surveillance activities, and how they affect American citizens.
While both the Snowden leak and Aidan's leak on House Of Cards proved to have major affects on how people view their respective governments, the stakes of Aidan's betrayal are huge for the Underwoods. Specifically, he can prove that Frank intentionally disrupted the democratic process to scheme his way back into the presidency, in addition to instructing Aidan to hack into government servers. While the NSA leaks reveal some dark truths about the lengths the National Security Agency will go to in order to keep tabs on private communication, Aidan's actions could possibly call into question the entire position of the presidency.
As if the contents of that leak weren't enough to damn Aidan, it doesn't help that he used to be romantically involved with LeAnn Harvey, Claire's right-hand woman. She could also in jeopardy because of his attack of conscience. While the content of the real and fictional leaks is different, there's a major similarity in where the whistleblowers take refuge. The New York Times reported earlier this year that Russia was extending its offer of asylum for Snowden for another several years. And Aidan seeks his own asylum under the protection of frequent Underwood foil Victor Petrov, the president of the Russia of House Of Cards.
But while Aidan seems to be inspired by Snowden to some degree, the similarities don't extend very far beyond the surface. Snowden is still an active and public presence, speaking frequently in interviews and via satellite at conferences about government surveillance. Aidan, however, doesn't manage to make a lasting impact on the world beyond his initial whistleblowing. Despite Aidan being in possession of a great deal of troubling information, the Underwoods stay a few steps ahead. Aidan is alerted that he's about to be "brought to justice" only moments before giving a major interview to reveal what he's learned.
In the end, Aidan ends up committing suicide to escape the Underwoods (or does he?), giving him a far more tragic end than Snowden's. His attempt to come clean is one of the biggest threats to the couple yet. However, like everyone else who has tried to outsmart the First Couple, Aidan simply isn't strong or cunning enough to survive the immeasurable reach of Frank and Claire Underwood.