Edward Snowden’s face has been plastered on the front page of every major newspaper in the world. The Department of Justice has launched a criminal probe into his leak. The NSA’s security and counterintelligence team is on the hunt for him. He’s reportedly maxed out his credit card, and checked out of a Hong Kong hotel as of today.
And yet no one knows where he is — so what’s his next move?
Upon perpetrating one of the greatest intelligence leaks in U.S. history, Snowden admitted to the Guardian that he had no good options for eluding capture.
“If they want to get you, they’ll get you in time,” he said of the U.S. intelligence network.
At today’s daily press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked if the U.S. government knows of Snowden’s whereabouts. He declined to comment.
After sneaking classified documents out of the National Security Agency facility in Hawaii last month, and recently checking out of his hotel hideaway in Hong Kong, Snowden is on the lam.
There’s been a lot of criticism of his choice of refuge, most noting that because of a longstanding extradition treaty with Hong Kong, it probably isn’t the best choice. But Benjamin Carlson at GlobalPost revealed it may actually be a brilliant move:
“… there is at least one reason it could be incredibly shrewd: Hong Kong’s asylum system is currently stuck in a state of limbo that could allow Snowden to exploit a loophole and buy some valuable time.”
The High Court in Hong Kong ruled in March that the region will not extradite anyone until it has a new procedure for reviewing extradition applications. This means that even if Snowden is apprehended and the U.S. appeals for him to be extradited, that would be a very long process.
When asked about his decision to hide in Hong Kong, Snowden said:
“Hong Kong has a strong tradition of free speech … the people of Hong Kong have a long tradition of protesting in the streets, of making their views known … I believe that the Hong Kong government is actually independent in relation to a lot of other leading western governments.”
But the GlobalPost story suggests there may be more to it, that Snowden might just be a step ahead of everyone — the journalists covering the story and the intelligence networks looking to track him down.
The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake has written about the unit within the NSA who is now on the hunt for Snowden. The NSA’s Associate Directorate for Security and Counterintelligence — called the ‘Q-Group’ — is charged with reining in Snowden. Lake writes that they have been searching for him since he disappeared from Hawaii several weeks ago.
“There is a complete freak out mode at the agency right now,” an unnamed former intelligence official told the Daily Beast.
It’s hard to believe that Snowden actually used a credit card to pay for his room if an elite security and counterintelligence unit was on his trail.
Nonetheless, the most reliable information we have is that he has so far eluded capture, that he has left his hotel in Hong Kong, and that he is still in the region — that according to Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, who first broke the story.
The Independent reports that Snowden checked into the Mira Hotel in Hong Kong early this morning, only to check out a short while later. Given his short stay and that he used his real name just hours after he revealed himself, it may have been a move designed to throw people off of his trail.
Media consensus seems to be that the 29-year-old will seek refuge in a country willing to thumb its nose at the U.S. government, but for a whistleblower whose behaviour has been anything but predictable, no one can say.
He did, however, reportedly tell the Guardian that he expects to be captured, that he believes U.S. authorities will eventually track him down.
“That’s a fear I’ll live under for the rest of my life,” he said, “however long that happens to be.”
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