Chinese Special Agents escort Edward Snowden from Honk Kong China to Moscow Russia. Collage by Rob Tom 2013.
This should clinch it about Snowden's early collaboration with the Kremlin -- the news is out now that Edward Snowden actually spent several days, i.e. overnight stays, in the Russian consulate in Hong Kong, even celebrating his 30th birthday (June 21st) at the fashionable location. I guess they must have plied him with vodka.
The only reason he would be spending overnights in the Russian consulate is if he feared that in fact the Chinese might arrest him -- or the CIA might kidnap him? -- and needed the Russians' help.
Let's not forget that it was on June 11th -- just days after Glenn Greenwald published his first story in the Guardian from Snowden's stash stolen from the NSA -- that Vladimir Putin himself said he would consider Snowden's appeal for asylum in Russia. Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman added that such statements "do not occur in the subjunctive". By that he meant evidently that it was a real consideration, with a yes or no, not a theoretical consideration. Or that it was a done deal.
Despite this obvious, blatant telegraphing that Putin, the wily old KGB agent, was welcoming Snowden with open arms using the legal cover of asylum-granting, there are people who still think that this doesn't mean anything, or that Putin isn't really sure, or that it was really some kind of open-ended process. Snort. Of course it wasn't. It was a giant COME HITHER.
There's a theory that the Chinese were nervous having Snowden on their territory and wanted to unload him on the Russians; but of course, it's possible that these two ancient antagonists cooperated together, against their mutual enemy, the United States.
Of course, Snowden, in his deliberately-deepened voice to impress girls, tells us with supreme geeky confidence that China isn't really our enemy, because our two peoples have so much trade together...you know, like the Chinese workers slaving away in Apple factories.... It's as if he has never read America the Vulnerable by Joel Brenner, which I'm reading now, or Vanity Fair's expose a few years ago about the appalling hacks by the Chinese government of our country. Wouldn't he have been required to know this in his job? To fight against it? To see it? How could he possibly talk like this after working years in intelligence? This lack of culture; this lack of understanding what and who the enemy is -- where does it come from?!
I said this clinched it, and many Russia-watchers think so -- but amazingly, it doesn't do that at all for some people who continue to see this as evidence that the US closed off all the exits. Snowden was only going to pass through Russia to Cuba, you see, but the Americans pressured Cuba into not letting him travel through their air space. There was that one Russian media report that Snowden was greeted by the Ecuadorean and Venezuelan diplomats on the tarmac at Sheremetyevo when he landed, and whisked away in their cards to one of their residences. That report has not appeared anywhere else and who knows if it is true.
But wait, there's no flights to Cuba from Hong Kong except through Russia? This entire problem with the air space and America couldn't have been ascertained from HK?
That is, if we are to believe it. And PS there's not a thing wrong with the US telling other countries that they should not permit a profound disrupter of their national security to go through their air space--the international system depends on such understandings and legalities.
The US also didn't do a thing wrong revoking Edward's passport the minute they realized he had committed treason and espionage -- and to expect a thing different is just naive. And again, the international system of the kind of sovereignty that Russia always insists on depends on this, and Russia would do no differently and has done exactly the same thing, numerous times before.
Business Insider is hyping all this, complete with references to Joshua Foust claiming that this "changes the game. What both of them are doing is distracting from WikiLeaks, Poitras, and Appelbaum, whom they never mention, and focusing on Snowden, as if the entire thing might all be pinned on him alone in the end.
It doesn't "dramatically" change the game because you can't get Russia or its allies or fellow-travellers to admit that -- yet -- because they can only use this to bolster their claim that Snowden was "forced" into their arms. Of course, Putin inviting Snowden to apply for asylum on June 11th, Russian officials later saying he was "surprised" that Snowden came to them ought to let you know that the Russians lie like rugs. It's never enough for the fellow travelers, however.
Looking at the Kommersant story, I have some questions about all these chatty sources who made this story materialize at this juncture, for some reason.
The first source is said to be "a source close to Snowden" or literally "in Snowden's circle" or even "in Snowden's entourage".
По информации источника "Ъ" в окружении экс-сотрудника ЦРУ и АНБ Эдварда Сноудена
So who the hell is that? Sarah Harrison talks to Kommersant about what her charge is doing?
Or is it these mysterious "Americans" who were described as taking care of him by Kucherena in the Russian media when he left the airport? Is that John Robles? Why don't any US newspapers go after this story in Moscow?! I am mystified as to why we have not seen a single report coming out of Moscow about Snowden -- no efforts to get at his lawyer, no efforts to find information by trawling through the pro-Kremlin ex-pat community. Didn't anybody trail him from the airport?
This unamed source in his "circle" is the one who told Kommersant that Snowden spent his 30th birthday at the consulate -- so they must be in fact close enough to Snowden to spend his birthday with him, too. The Hong Kong lawyers deny knowing anything about this and it seems it is not them.
Is this in fact Sarah Harrison, trying to spin a line that makes it seem like the US blocked the exits and that he was "driven" into the arms of Putin? Does she not realize how it backfires and only shows that he was conniving with Russian intelligence way earlier than either he, Glenn Greenwald, or the Russians admitted?
But maybe she is merely following instructions from the wily Assange, and this is all part of the plot, which he thinks will work.
Now let's look at Kommersant's second source: Источник "Ъ" в российских госструктурах
This is somebody in government -- a government agency. This source says Snowden really was in the Russian consulate in Hong Kong but spent "only" two days there.
And this official emphasizes that Snowden himself came there, he was not invited. He was said to show his ticket to Cuba, via Moscow on Aeroflot, and say that he planned to ask for asylum in Venezuela if he could make his way there.
Naturally we're all dying to know why this whole crew didn't START their excellent adventure by going FIRST to Caracas THEN leaking all their stuff. No one ever, ever explains that. Maybe, as Evgeny Morozov claims, it was because Snowden had "poor trip planning skills."
Snowden was said to tell the Russians that "due to his human rights activity his life was in danger" and asked for help, referencing the refugee convention.
This all sounds really fake to me. In the interviews with Snowden, such as they are, he doesn't speak of "human rights activity" -- it's not his lexicon. This sounds like the Russian government's formulation to try to make it look "universalized" as some international human rights issue -- and distract from the criminality of it, in an effort to make an annoying fake moral equivalence with Russian dissidents seeking asylum legitimately.
Somehow -- Kommersant doesn't press as to why -- this source claims that this story he is now telling about Snowden's prior relationship with Russia in Hong Kong doesn't contradict Putin's later claim that it all came as a complete surprise to him.
Kommersant recaps the time line:
June 9 -- Greenwald's first article based on Snowden's material
June 10 -- Snowden leaves his hotel in Hong Kong and disappears
June 11 -- Putin offers Snowden to apply for political asylum
June 13 -- US opens up a criminal case on charges of espionage against Snowden and warn countries not to accept him
June 15 -- British authorities bar his overflight and Iceland says it can only consider his application if he comes to their country
June 16 -- Hong Kong authorities say they would review US extradition request re: Snowden
June 20 -- US sends extradition request to Hong Kong
June 20 - Snowden goes to Russian consulate in Hong Kong; stays overnight.
June 21 - US revokes passport. Snowden's second day in consulate and his birthday.
June 23 - Snowden flies to Moscow without passport; press reports revocation.
Kommersant writes that presumably, during this time Snowden was at the home of a friend in Hong Kong, and Sarah Harrison from WikiLeaks joined him.
He met with his Hong Kong lawyers, and they said they didn't know if the government would act on the extradition request, but that they might arrest him while they reviewed it. They also said the authorities would not object if he just left the country.
This last detail doesn't seem to have been mentioned elsewhere in the press (although I could have missed it). That spurred Snowden to flee to the Russian consulate.
On that same day, i.e. on June 20th US time, or already June 21st Hong Kong time, while Snowden was at the Russian consulate overnight, the US revoked Snowden's passport.
So FIRST comes the extradition request; THEN the realization that China will not accept him; THEN the flight to the Russian consulate THEN pulling the passport.
Many people seem to forget that EIGHT DAYS passed between the time the US opened the criminal case (June 13) which came AFTER Putin's June 11th offer to apply for asylum -- as good as a signal that asylum would be granted, as it is not done frequently and this was at the level of the president.
Again, you wonder why they didn't plan this out ahead of time, because certainly Assange in particular has had lots of experience -- and time -- to study the ways in which countries can extradite you -- or not.
Kommersant cites "informed sources" that say Cuba was under US pressure not to admit Snowden and then cites "a source in the State Department" saying that a US warning did go to Cuba.
There was the chance to leave with the president of Bolivia, says Kommersant, but that way was closed off when most of the countries in the flight path rejected the request to pass through and a forced landing was made in Vienna. I'm still wondering if the news that Snowden was on that plane was in fact planted by Russian intelligence or WikiLeaks.
I just wish there was some journalism on this story. Somebody calling up MID and asking what kind of visa they have issued Sarah Harrison -- and from which institution, and for which purpose.
One positive thing about this latest story is that it has gotten BuzzFeed and some other media to take a second look at the Russian connection and to ask, really, why Snowden wound up in Moscow.
Whether they will do more to link up the dots remains to be seen.