I don't mean to tell you your business -- you journalists, you CIA agents, who should be hunting for Snowden in Moscow better than you are. Oh, I know there's been the Shutdown, and there's the overall awesome-sauce paralysis that nearly the whole press corps seems to be in when it comes to bringing even the slightest scrutiny to Snowden. But come on, this is basic stuff, it's been almost five months -- why is this taking so long?
Here's some leads I think you should pursue -- and I'm not going to be afraid to say the obvious because, well, it's been five months and I think you can do better than this, really I do.
1. Anatoly Kucherena
The most obvious place to start is Snowden's lawyer. Use his very ample online resume for tips. (No, he doesn't "work for" the FSB; he just sits on a public council at the FSB which is a voluntary honorific position). No one has done a separate interview with him except a few government media journalists. Really, you can't get more? You can't get to that female translator who was at the airport and at the banquet? You can't talk to a secretary in his office? You can't get to some of his other clients? How about some of those fellow committee members on all those committees he's on? He must spend his life going to meetings. Follow him!
2. Col. Lobarev
Remember that weird group of veterans, including KGB veterans that adopted Snowden? Whatever happened to him and his blankets and tablet for Snowden? Nothing?
3. Life News
This tabloidy online scandal sheet run by oligarchs close to Putin (and that means the secret police) have the only pictures of Snowden taken outside the WikiLeaks scripted events (the shopping cart and the "boat trip" which is actually standing on a platform with the Orthodox Church in the background which used to be called Christ the Saviour and is now called That Pussy Riot Church). So try to talk to the guys at Life News (and for a fee they will talk more).
Just looking at it, I'm going to take a WAG and say it's Yasenevo. It looks like Yasenevo, which I've been to a number of times (and now opposition member Vladimir Milov has confirmed it, because he lives in the neighbourhood -- he also found the red-handled shopping cart center). Why would he be there? Well, because that's where Russian intelligence is located on the outskirts of Moscow - -the GRU and SVR -- and where they could put him in a safe house in the midst of their stronghold. There are both residences and offices there. I really don't think they would want to put Snowy in some flat in Yugozapad among the other intellectuals or in some place like Biryulyovo where there might be a riot and Americans with funny accents could be targeted! No, they'll want to keep him very safe, and that means in their compound.
Most of the time people talk about the FSB with regard to Snowden, but the GRU -- military intelligence -- and/or SVR -- Foreign Intelligence Service -- would be in charge of spying on the NSA, and since he's from the NSA and a foreign, he might be "theirs," even though now that he's on Russian soil, he could be the domestic spies' subject at the FSB. I just don't know the specifics but someone will find out. I'm betting that the SVR owns him.
First, look for shopping centers in that area -- or other areas. Russians LOVE FourSquare.
In the shopping centers in Yasenevo, look at the distinctive striping on the curb - you don't see that everywhere in Moscow, but you do around shopping centers, metro stops, certain places. Look at the trees. Look at the shopping car style and its logo, look at the traffic signs, look at the metal kiosks.
Now, go over to Wikimapia -- something Russians love to go on so it's well developed with labelling -- and see what's there. Compare and contrast to the Life News photo. The area around the big 24-hour Yasenevo shopping center has the same kind of striped curb, the same kind of low metal kiosks, the same kind of trees, the same kind of traffic signs (but then, so do other places). The only thing "off" is that the shopping cart has red handles, and if you zoom to street level on Google, you see the shopping carts have blue handles at least in the far corner of the lot (could be from another store). Ah, well. Update: thanks to Milov, we know that the *blue* handles are on the shopping center called Ashan, which is also in the Yasenevo/Tyoply Stan metro area.
This area search has to be developed -- I don't have time now, but since the cart's label on the front looks like it has a Russian "D" at the start and a "y" which is "oo" sound at the end, maybe it is Dialut in Yasenevo. Or keep looking. You're paid, I'm not, I leave it to you.
Keep in mind that Life News may have deliberately distorted or foreshortened the picture as well.
For extra credit, figure out the license plate on the parked car, track that car! It is likely parked where the person lives/shops/works and will repeat there, that's your area.
4. The Salmon-Coloured Banquet Hall
Several of us went crazy trying to find that room all the lush web sites of Moscow hotels like the Prezident, the Metropol, the Savoy where the rich and famous can rent intimate banquet rooms. (Milov suggested the National -- well, it was damn close...) We also looked in St. Petersburg, just in case he went there to take his job at Vkontakte. Just couldn't find it. The next bet was to look at construction businesses for the rich and famous like Kolona which do that kind of interior decorating with all that nouveau riches sort of stuff like salmon marble and faux 18th century paintings. Didn't find yet -- but this area should be prospected. Since we know know from the New York Times that the Treason Convention (as the four ex-officials call themselves who visited him) were taken in a van with darkened windows to the location, it could be some private oligarch type home).
Once you locate it, obviously the waiters and managers and regulars can be asked.
And speaking of Pavel Durov, who offered Snowden a job, he has to be asked, along with his staff who might talk. The web site where he was offered the job is described as a "portal," as if it were Yandex, or one of Anna Chapman's shopping or real estate Internet businesses, but it might well be Vkontakte.
As I've noted on my other blog, the credits at the end of WikiLeaks' Mediastan movie, shot with the help of Russian journalists is a mine for contacts of people in Moscow who might know Sarah Harrison who was involved in this film, who might know Assange, who might be in the privileged circle of people allowed to see/hear about Snowden.
You know, it takes a village. Maybe the secret police/Kucherena/whoever keep this circle small, but this sort of thing can be hard to keep small, especially if Snowden becomes demanding and needs company and entertainment or work or if -- as I've theorized, Putin is preferring to create the illusion that Snowden is handled by loyal "managed democracy" operatives in NGOs, businesses, etc. rather than by intelligence directly.
So here's the list of credits, mine them as you will:
Jack Thomas O'Brien
Note: some of these people are prominent and critically-acclaimed film-makers in Russia like Ruminov, Khomerki and Leybin. Their names may merely be decorating this in order to give it heft in Russia, or to gain entree in places they needed entree or whatever. Even so, they may have some connection to WikiLeaks or they might have a tip. You'll never know unless you ask!
I've written at length about Dmitry Velikovsky at Russkiy Reporter who has interviewed Assange -- he and others in the list from there, and other staff and freelancers, are good prospects for tid-bits about Snowden. For extra credit, read the comment from Johannes Wahlstrom, who is deeply involved with these Russians and produced Mediastan. He's the son of the notorious provocateur Israel Shamir who consistently flogs the Kremlin line and promotes WikiLeaks in Russia. Follow those two and their friends and you will get to Snowden eventually.
7. Electronics and Computer Stores, Internet Help Forums
A geek like Snowden, whether or not he has his four laptops, needs batteries. These are maybe a bit hard to get in Moscow but rich Muscovites are hugely gadget oriented, demand is high, and they exist especially in an area like Yasenevo. Snowden might have to work with unfamiliar equipment or programs in Russian and might look around on help fora. Of course, he's not going to use his own name, but it's just one possibility. Nothing persuades me that Snowden is off the Internet; I'm betting he is on the Internet all day because he thinks he has nothing to hide (his files are all somewhere else, right?). So he's up to something, under a nickname, and it's just a question of finding him, starting with the obvious geek places in Russia in real life and on the web.
8. Pizza Hut
Okay, I'm going to throw this in. Americans all go there. It's not so good. The McDonald's isn't, either. I'm betting Snowden with his salary had more refined tastes, and he lived abroad. So I don't think he will get a yen to go to these places, but I mention it anyway. Obviously, he's not going to do what a lot of ex-pats in Moscow do, which is go to the American Embassy. Not! So try the Japanese sushi places then, that may be a safer bet for Snowden-hunting.
Snowden will need his eyes checked. Why are his glasses either missing or pushed up on his head in the shopping picture? Does he need new ones? Did he get contacts to help disguise his appearance? Maybe Kucherena will set him up with one of those old Party clinic type of doctors for the privileged which he is probably registered at. He also has to have those fancy Prada lenses, and they're not on every street corner.
10. Start-up or hacker meet-ups
No, it doesn't seem likely that Snowden will go to something like this just now. But maybe eventually. And the people in them could be related to WikiLeaks and that means related to him. These circles are all trans-national and they go to the same conferences like Chaos Communications Club in Germany and such. Bears watching. Many people thought Anna Chapman was just a red-haired bombshell who dated older men to spy on them or something, but her real networking seemed to be among the start-ups in New York and San Francisco and she was active in an association for Russian start-up engineers in America. There aren't that many of them, a lot are on Facebook or Twitter. Sooner or later something will turn up.
11. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch
Oh, sure, I know these groups will say they know nothing and see nothing, but outside of Kucherena, they're the only ones we've known to be directly in touch with Snowden. Amnesty in Moscow is run by a Russian who is even more co-opted than HRW. They're going to know something that probably hasn't been in the media so it's worth talking to them. Maybe they'll know the name of Kucherena's translator.
12. Anti-American Ex-Pats in Moscow
This group has to be mined better because from the beginning, the Russian media talked about Americans who helped Snowden in Moscow. These are obviously not ordinary Americans or attached to the Embassy. They are others who've decided to live in Moscow and act out their "adversarial" relationship to their homeland. Who is that woman with the black frizzy hair in the "silent movie" WikiLeaks created in the salmon room? She also appears in the boat picture. It's a different person than Kucherena's translator.
This is what you can do in Moscow. Of course, state-side, you could be pumping Lonny Snowden, or those four in the "Treason Convention". Some of them are loony enough, maybe they'll talk, slip up, give a clue. Unlike the existing adversarial journalists in touch with him like Greenwald or Risen who will likely be careful enough not to talk. Then there's Jacob Appelbaum. He's the kind who could be careless or in a burst of emotion wanting to prove something would in fact tell you something. An angle worth working.