Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden spent several days, including his 30th birthday, in the Russian consulate in Hong Kong before flying to Moscow on June 23, according to
a report in the Russian newspaper Kommersant.
A Western source reportedly confirmed the report to the paper, saying that “Russians themselves invited Snowden, passing the invitation on to him via the Chinese who were happy to get rid of him,” according to Agence France-Presse’s translation.
Kommersant noted that the U.S. reportedly requested that Hong Kong extradite Snowden on June 20, and that Snowden’s passport was voided on June 21. Snowden reportedly reached out to Russian officials on June 21, which was his 30th birthday.
The report, if accurate, reveals that Russian authorities were involved with Snowden earlier than previously known and provides context to Snowden’s plans to leak highly classified NSA material.
(On June 23 Izvestia, a [formerly] state-owned Russian newspaper, wrote that the Kremlin and its intelligence services collaborated with Wikileaks to help Snowden escape from Hong Kong.)
“The revelation he was cavorting with Russia while in Hong Kong gives more … credence to assumptions Snowden deliberately plotted to subvert the United States and steal thousands of pages of classified and compartmented material,” Robert Caruso, a former assistant command security manager in the Navy and consultant, told Business Insider.
The new information also sheds light on how Russia and WikiLeaks helped Snowden leave Hong Kong without a passport before he got stuck in Russia. Former U.S. intelligence analyst Joshua Foust writes that it “dramatically changes the game.”
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange convinced Ecuador’s consul in London to provide a travel
document requesting that authorities allow Snowden to travel to Ecuador “for the purpose of political asylum.” The country’s president subsequently said the document was “completely invalid.”
When Snowden arrived in Moscow with a void passport and nullified travel papers, all signs suggest that Russia’s intelligence service (i.e. FSB) took control of him.
That day a radio host in Moscow “saw about 20 Russian officials, supposedly FSB agents, in suits, crowding around somebody in a restricted area of the airport,” according to Anna Nemtsova of Foreign Policy.
Snowden’s FSB-linked Moscow lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, has been speaking for Snowden ever since Snowden accepted all offers for support and asylum on July 12. Russia granted him temporary asylum on August 1 and led him to a car that would take him to a “secure location.”
Snowden’s situation in Russia is important, especially because of how he knows his way around the world’s largest spy agency.
Over the weekend the Associated Press reported that Snowden employed sophisticated techniques to cover his digital trail by deleting or bypassing electronic logs while taking tens of thousands of classified documents.
“From an operations security standpoint, that Edward Snowden is a real nightmare scenario,” Caruso told BI. “We don’t know what he’s taken, or even how long he hoarded this material. There are even reports he spirited away media — laptops, and the like.”
(Kommersant report via Buzzfeed)
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