We’ve just learned how Edward Snowden manage to hide in Hong Kong for two weeks in 2013 after leaking explosive details about the United States’ covert spy program: The whistleblower took refuge in the homes of asylum seekers in the city.
Snowden’s Hong Kong lawyer, Robert Tibbo, arranged for him to stay with some of his clients — and they have now broken their silence about their aid for the first time in a series of interviews.
Back in 2013, the world was rocked by the leak of highly classified US documents detailing the NSA’s (National Security Agency) secretive spy programs, which surveiled millions of people both in the US and around the world.
Behind the leak was former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who had made contact with journalists before fleeing from the US to Hong Kong to meet them in person and for the publication of the initial stories
Snowden and the reporters met at the Hotel Mira at the start of June — but afterwards, the whistleblower went to ground, hiding for two weeks before boarding a plane to Moscow, Russia, where he has remained ever since.
One of those who sheltered Snowden, a 42-year-old Filipino woman called Vanessa Mae Bondalian Rodel, told The New York Times that two lawyers showed up unexpectedly at her door with Snowden, asking her to hide him: “My first impression of his face was that he was scared, very worried.”
She had no idea who Snowden was until he asked her to buy him a copy of the South China Morning Post, which had a photo of his face on the front page: “Oh my God, unbelievable,” she had said. “The most wanted man in the world is in my house.”
“That morning, I had minutes to figure out how to get him to the UN, away from the media, and out of harm’s way with the weight of the U.S. government bearing down on him. I did what I had to do, and could do, to help him,” Robert Tibbo told the National Post.
“Nobody would dream that a man of such high profile would be placed among the most reviled people in Hong Kong … We put him in a place where no one would look.”
Snowden reportedly stayed in at least four different locations, typically in rough, cramped conditions. During one stay, the Post reports, he ate mostly McDonalds — and his legal team sent him cakes with USB drives hidden in “as a way to communicate with him.”
After Snowden was charged under the Espionage Act on June 21, he took the decision to seek asylum elsewhere, and boarded a plane to Moscow. The intention was to travel on to Latin America — but his cancelled passport meant he was grounded, and has remained in Russia since then.
There are still questions over where Snowden stayed before he checked into the Mira and the first stories were published, however. Snowden had claimed he stayed in the Mira from his arrival in Hong Kong — but Wall Street Journal journo Edward Jay Epstein did some digging and found he only checked in on June 1, 11 days after his arrival in the country.
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