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June 09, 2013



On the update: I wasn't convinced by HK as a destination either. Which set me thinking: if one was in the position this guy is in, where is the best country one *could* choose to hide out in?


I think Iceland is too close to TheStates.

New Zealand?


The other broadly democratic republic with universalist aspirations and the Bomb, of course.

Chris Williams

NZ are in Echelon, so I would avoid there. If not Paris, I might hold out some hope for Brazil. On a low budget, Oslo. Clearly, members of the Axis of Anti are not good places to end up.


NZ would be a bad choice, I think. Although our bumbling police and security services may give you an out if you can afford unlimited high-powered legal services (the ongoing Kim Dotcom saga has been entertaining this country for some time now).


What you're looking for is threefold, isn't it?

a) won't turn you in (and won't let Reaper drones operate in their airspace)

> UK fails on the first...

b) will let you leave, should that become expedient

> Russia, China etc fail on that one

c) isn't worse than doing time

> North Korea, the Sahel fail on that one

so France it is then.


>>> On a low budget, Oslo.

That's a very low key sarcasm... I wonder if Rusbridger vetoed the exes bid personally?

so France it is then

Really? Surely you have to ask yourself how useful you are to the French before making that decision...

I must say on reading the article about 2 hours ago I was baffled by Hong Kong and thought to myself "Oslo?", but hadn't we better give the guy some credit for thinking through - and having some reasonable insider info on - where NSA/CIA would be least likely to want to upset the host country by killing him or snatching him? And where there's little chance of the courts legally extraditing him (Assange's reason for picking Ecuador, although he hasn't actually got there yet.)

Is it even possible that he's already got a deal with the Chinese that they'll offer him some kind of protection? In world PR terms this story is positive for China merely by virtue of being negative for USA. So he has a value to them.

Meanwhile, my question for the all-knowing & all-wise B&T community is, in the world of the spooks, is it fully known, expected & accepted that the penalty for an insider having done what he's just done is death?

Do folks agree that his strategy of outing himself and saying he now expects to be assassinated his best bet for avoiding being so in the near term?

Or should he have put it more firmly on the record in the interview that he is not feeling remotely suicidal and is staying in a ground floor hotel room to avoid accidentally falling out of his window.

Finally, I hope none here too old & cynical not to applaud one seriously bloody brave and admirably idealist guy.

Barry Freed

They didn't go after Philip Agee in that way and he really angered whe intelligence community - he actually revealed names of station operatives. (And I think there was another similar to Agee but his name is slipping my mind.) They did try to extradite him from the UK but he had lots of political support. Then there was his long term exile in Cuba. Of course, as Jamie is wont to point out, those were different times.

john b

Interesting that the view here is that HK is such a bad idea.

I would have thought the combination of a legal code that protects free speech, plus the influence of a not-directly-interventionist parent state that has an obvious interest in making the Americans look like jackbooted thugs and itself not, would be ideal...

Chris Williams

Fair point, Strategist, re the insider info he may or may not have. One other option would be Macao - it's actually 'one country three systems' right now, but the PRC is strapped for Roman Law experts to send there. On the other hand Adelman, gangsters hit squads, etc.

"Peter King, the chairman of the House homeland security subcommittee, called for Snowden's extradition from Hong Kong."

That man's lack of shame knows no bounds.

Snowden himslf is undoubtedly a hero, and I think that if anyone's writing history books in 100 years time, he'll be there in a paragraph with the EFF, Anonymous and the Pirate Party, as early examples of the (insert name here) Movement.


red flags in no particular order:

- The U.S. intelligence community, he wrote, “will most certainly kill you if they think you are the single point of failure that could stop this disclosure and make them the sole owner of this information.”

- contractor sysadmin has 'authority' to read Obama's email.

- dude, you're tech support, not a spy.

- there is such a thing as 'the NSA personnel roster' and this guy saw it. The impression I get from Top Secret America is the system is now so sprawling, outsourced and compartmentalised that this simply wouldn't exist.

- the martyrdom stuff, the video, his disillusionment in Switzerland with agents recruiting sources through *gasp* underhand methods.

- wanted to give Obama a chance despite his 2008 FAA vote?

- doorway stuffed with pillows... red curtain to hide passwords...

I think some people might want to wait a bit before hoisting this guy on their shoulders.


Just for once, can we please have a story about the revealed malfeasance of the powerful which isn't immediately turned into a discussion about the "personal failings" of the person or persons who revealed the information?


Well, of course not, because only someone who was unstable, antisocial, or otherwise less than optimal could possibly be opposed to the activities of the US government in this, the best of all possible worlds.


Probably no more than we can have a discussion about what to do about the surveillance state without unquestioning admiration of whistleblowers.

The fact that Snowden apparently thinks this stuff is dynamite is worrying. Maybe there's real malfeasance on the unreleased slides but from what I can tell the current material fills in some of the blanks on just how big NSA is and some of its capacity when it comes to (legally) hoovering up a lot of data. If that's it, that's a problem.

Nothing about the last decade gives me confidence that it's enough to point to the size and extent of the NSA to make the case against its powers. Without evidence of COINTELPRO-style abuses what's been presented so far isn't going to trouble the "done nothing wrong, nothing to fear" crowd. Stalling one of the few American growth industries of recent years requires more than just pulling away the curtain; far too many people are ready to make peace with what they see.

Whistleblowers shouldn't have to be saints, but there needs to be more to being a hero than releasing classified information. Right now there's a lot of faith being put in leaking as a weapon of mobilisation against the security state, and by extension leakers as heros. I don't think this a great idea, as it ties people to personalities rather than movements. According to Chris above, Snowden is already part of this Movement, but there's been no co-ordination and no strategy, just an implicit belief that once this material is released there's going to be some changes around here.

There will be, but how welcome is another thing entirely.

Sam Dodsworth

there needs to be more to being a hero than releasing classified information.

But releasing information is a lot better than everyone keeping quiet because they're afraid of possible blowback. Which seems to be what you're advocating?

Chris Williams

I'm not forecasting the success of the Movement, nor even confident that people will be writing histories of anything at all in 100 years time. let alone ones of success. Clearly these revelations are not sufficient: but they are necessary. Now the official line has to shift to "We do these things but so what?" from "We don't do these things." We're on stage two: now other things are necessary.

I very much doubt that any one activist or (especially) whistleblower could embody stages one, two, three, four and five in a perfect back-chatting all-knowing wikispook form. Which won't stop the media wingeing that this scared coder in a hotel room is - hey! - not actually James Bond, and why isn't he, dammit?

Chris Williams

D'oh - I've just realised that "has flight from Hawai'i which does not refuel or otherwise land on US territory" was probably in the list of criteria.


It's possible he hadn't decided in advance whether to reveal his identity, or to go back to work and pretend nothing happened. e.g. he didn't know whether Glenn Greenwald would publish.

In that case, he had a semi-plausible explanation for being in HK, but none for being in Iceland.

Still, HK seems a bad choice, given that:
a) he's a bargaining chip. In Europe the legal process would (somewhat) protect him from that, but with China it's just figuring the price.
b) the HK authorities can arrest him for some trivial offence, either to grill him for inside information or just to frighten the US.

either (a) or (b) will happen within a couple of years, depending on the week-by-week relations between China and the US. Arrest or extradition, not much to look forward to.

Maybe he's just accepted his time as a free man is limited, and decided Hong Kong is a pleasant place to spend it.


@Sam: not at all. I'm questioning how effective embracing individual leakers as heroes is.

@Chris: not in the case of PRISM, which appears to be on pretty sound legal footing - there's nothing surprising about it for anyone who followed the Fisa Amendment Act (i.e. hardly anyone, but that's a different story). The Verizon metadata application is a new one, difficult to reconcile with previous public statements and relies on a particularly over-broad interpretation of one section of the 2008 FAA that could be challenged. My post above conflated the two, mea culpa.

nick s

"Peter King, the chairman of the House homeland security subcommittee, called for Snowden's extradition from Hong Kong."

How about a deal in which the full contents of King's files from British, Irish and American intelligence are made public first?

There are lots of ill-fitting elements to Snowden's self-described backstory, but I don't think this is going to end up as old-fashioned espionage, and I'd be disappointed if it does.


It needs thought, but you can fly Oahu to Papeete on Hawaiian Airlines....

Chris Williams

Leinad: "(i.e. hardly anyone, but that's a different story)." - no, I disagree. That's the story.

Tony Bunyan can spend decades sat in obscure committees putting 2 and 2 together and making 4 for anyone who is prepared to listen, but what this leak does is project a massive multicolour strobing '4' on the clouds. Sure, lots of people then say that actually they are quite fond of the 4, but they are forced to notice its existence.


Chris: that's the model, but the assumptions behind it need work. Rather than the apathetic being 'forced to notice' there's an awful lot of people who assumed there was a numeral of some kind, long before and made their peace with it.

Not only that, there's been a solid forty years of paranoid culture that has prepared us for this. When Snowden starts talking like the hero of his own movie, about the totalitarian state *and* being whacked by the Triads, not only is it easy to write him off, but it isn't challenging anyone - people saw that Will Smith movie a while ago.

chris y

The poll numbers are now coming through, and guess what? A majority (as reported, probably a plurality) of US respondents think the surveillance programmes are justified.

Sam Dodsworth

I'm questioning how effective embracing individual leakers as heroes is.

Seems to me people who decide to take considerable risks to do the right thing need some kind of encouragement. I'll chip in for a cash award if you'd prefer that? Or is your argument that because this is not the Revolution, it's not worth doing?

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