Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden told“Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams in Moscow that he “never intended to end up in Russia” and that the U.S. State Department stranded him there after he arrived from Hong Kong on June 23.
“I had a flight booked to Cuba onwards to Latin America and I was stopped because the United States government decided to revoke my passport and trap me in Moscow Airport,” Snowden said. “So when people ask why are you in Russia, I say, ‘Please ask the State Department.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in response, called Snowden’s answer “dumb.”
There are several issues with the claim that the U.S. stranded Snowden in Russia. Here are the four most glaring:
1. Snowden had no valid travel documents when he landed at Sheremetyevo airport. The U.S. revoked Snowden’s passport on June 22, and the 30-year-old left Hong Kong after WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange acquired an unsigned Ecuadorian travel document — ostensibly for safe passage to Latin America — that was void when Snowden landed in Moscow.
2. WikiLeaks told him to go to Russia and stay there. Assange told Janet Reitman of Rolling Stone magazine in December that he advised Snowden against going to Latin America because “he would be physically safest in Russia.” WikiLeaks, who was advising Snowden and paying for his travel in Hong Kong, reiterated this statement with a tweet on May 1.
3. Snowden is an NSA-trained hacker and “spy
” who was travelling through the territory of two U.S. adversaries. To a foreign intelligence service, “Snowden is priceless.” The idea that someone of his status and expertise could freely pass through Moscow is highly implausible.
4. WikiLeaks told BI
that the Ecuadorian document was meant to help Snowden leave Hong Kong, which raises the question of why he would need it if his passport was still good. The organisation has not explained why it would send the NSA-trained hacker to Russia knowing he would land with a void passport and a bunk travel document.
Basically, as explained by Russian security services expert Andrei Soldatov, “Snowden made a great mistake when he decided to go to Moscow.” And there was little that the U.S. could do about it once he landed.
Soldatov, who co-wrote the book on the post-Soviet Russian security services (FSB), detailed how the FSB would likely want to have handled Snowden after he reached out to Russian officials while staying in Hong Kong.
“The first step is to get Snowden to Moscow,” Soldatov said. “The next step is to have him locked for 40 days [to decide what to do] … The next step is to provide him asylum … Then to say, ‘Someone is looking for you, you are in danger.’ … And then you have the guy in a controlled environment, and then you can work with him.”
That appears to be what has happened. Snowden has now been living under FSB protection in an undisclosed location for 10 months. And even though U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry offered to “have him on a flight today” if he wants to return to America, there is no indication that Vladimir Putin would allow that.
So if the former CIA technician “never intended to end up in Russia,” perhaps he shouldn’t have flown there in the first place.
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