Edward Snowden has provided few details about his flight from the U.S. and subsequent month-long stay in Hong Kong in May 2013.
Significantly, WSJ confirmed that Snowden did not arrive at the five-star Mira hotel — where he gave an estimated 200,000 NSA documents to journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras — until June 1.
And a source familiar with the Defence Intelligence Agency’s report on the Snowden affair told WSJ that there are no records indicating the CIA technician’s whereabouts between his arrival, on May 20, and June 1.
“So,” Epstein asks, “where was Edward Snowden between May 20 and May 31?”
The answer is elusive, as it seems Snowden doesn’t want anyone to know. The 31-year-old hasn’t addressed the issue directly, and the story as reported by Greenwald doesn’t add up.
In his book, Greenwald writes that Snowden “arrived in Hong Kong from Hawaii on May 20, checking into the Mira Hotel under his own name.” But based on inquiries made by WSJ reporter Te-Ping Chen, Snowden arrived on June 1. And a hotel security guard told Epstein that Snowden “was not in the Mira during that late-May period and, when he did stay there, he used his own passport and credit card.”
Little more is known about what happened after Snowden parted ways with the American journalists on June 10. Epstein reports that lawyers “who had been retained by an anonymous party for [Snowden] in Hong Kong” have declined to discuss the details regarding who helped Snowden after he left the Mira Hotel and went underground.
(Snowden reportedly contacted WikiLeaks on June 12, and two people close to Snowden told Business Insider that WikiLeaks paid for Snowden’s expensive Mira Hotel bill.)
Albert Ho, one of the lawyers, did tell The New York Times that Snowden had assistance from a “well-connected” resident of Hong Kong with whom he had been acquainted prior to his arrival. The person served as Snowden’s carer” and set him up in safe houses both in Hong Kong and in the adjacent New Territories.
Greenwald, for his part, writes that a “longtime reader of mine who lives in Hong Kong … insisted that Snowden urgently needed to retain well-connected lawyers in the city.”
It’s unclear if Ho and Greenwald are talking about the same person; if they are, it’s unclear how Snowden would have previously known a long-time Greenwald reader in Hong Kong. Snowden ended up taking a flight to Moscow on June 23.
The Russia Connection
Snowden, who has been living in Russia for the last year, has refused to discuss his initial contact with Russia in Hong Kong.
A U.S. official in Hong Kong told WSJ that CCTV cameras showed Snowden entering the building that housed the Russian consulate on three occasions in June.
Snowden denies cooperating Russia’s post-Soviet security services (FSB), which implies that the fugitive leaker turned down the offer by Russian security services after Putin agreed to his flight to Moscow.
Snowden also contends that he has “no relationship with the Russian government at all” despite the fact that Kucherena, his Moscow lawyer who got him an apartment, is a Putin loyalist, and serves on an FSB advisory board.
Epstein found that “the conventional portrait of his stay there and in Russia as one of improvisation and serendipity is at odds with the precision of his well-planned thefts.”
The U.S. government believes Snowden began copying documents in the summer of 2012 and “probably downloaded” about 1.7 million documents overall. The current status of 1.5 million of those documents is unknown.
Epstein notes that Snowden left Dell for Booz Allen on March 15, 2012, to gain “access to the crown jewels, the lists of computers in four adversary nations — Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran — that the agency had penetrated.” To do that, Snowden had to steal passwords from colleagues, an act he denies but has been confirmed by former colleagues.
In May, Snowden told NBC that he “destroyed” the extra documents, but he had previously told The New York Times that he gave them all to journalists he’d met in Hong Kong.
Epstein concludes that the sophistication of the thefts, which took place over a year in multiple NSA facilities, implies that there is “no reason to assume that [Snowden’s] getaway was any less deliberately planned.”
And given the prevailing secrecy and contradictions surrounding the story of his escape, it’s clear that the true story has not yet been told.
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