One year ago, Edward Snowden was trying to find a way from Hong Kong to asylum in a country willing to take him.
At the time, WikiLeaks was paying for Snowden’s plane tickets, lodging, and legal counsel while acting as a “go-between” to deliver Snowden’s messages and requests to “officials and governments.”
But to hear Snowden tell the story now, one wouldn’t know that WikiLeaks advised him to fly to Russia on June 23, 2013, and stay there.
“Going to Ecuador and getting asylum there, that would have been great. And that would have just been a bonus,” Snowden told The Guardian in a new interview. “The fact that I’ve ended up so secure is entirely by accident. … The whole key is, the State Department’s the one who put me in Russia.”
In reality, his escape to Moscow was no accident to WikiLeaks. On Aug. 1, the day Snowden received asylum from Russia, WikiLeaks stated that it had “taken a leading role in assisting Mr. Snowden secure his safety.”
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange had sent Sarah Harrison, a close adviser and girlfriend, to join Snowden in mid-June and travel with him to Russia. (She left for Germany in November.)
And Snowden’s assertion that the U.S. stranded him in Russia by revoking his passport before he could travel to Ecuador also has several issues relating to WikiLeaks.
The U.S. had asked Hong Kong to provisionally arrest Snowden for the purposes of extradition on June 15 and revoked his passport on June 22.
After Snowden arrived in Moscow, Assange said that Ecuador has granted Snowden a “refugee document of passage” to facilitate his travel out of Hong Kong. But the document from the Ecuadorian consul in London wasn’t even signed — meaning that it was void when Snowden landed on Russian soil.
Most significantly, Assange — who hosted a TV show on Russia propaganda network RT — has admitted that he advised Snowden to go to Russia and stay there.
“While Venezuela and Ecuador could protect him in the short term, over the long term there could be a change in government. In Russia, he’s safe, he’s well-regarded, and that is not likely to change,” Assange told Janet Reitman of Rolling Stone. “That was my advice to Snowden, that he would be physically safest in Russia.”
Assange reiterated that statement on Twitter in May when WikiLeaks tweeted that “we advised Snowden to take Russia. Not safe elsewhere.”
Consequently, all indications suggest that it was actually Assange who “put [Snowden] in Russia” by advising him to fly to Moscow with no valid travel documents.
Meeting with Russians in Hong Kong
In September, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Snowden “first went to Hong Kong and got in touch with our diplomatic representatives.” It’s unclear when that first meeting took place since Snowden won’t discuss details.
As Russian security expert Andrei Soldatov told Business Insider in January, “You need to find a way to Russian officials [in Hong Kong]. It’s not so easy. You cannot just knock on the door and say, ‘I am an NSA whistleblower and I want contact with the Russians.'”
Nevertheless, Snowden “had been observed on CCTV cameras entering the skyscraper that housed the Russian consulate on three occasions” in June, Edward Jay Epstein of The Wall Street Journal reported recently.
Given that WikiLeaks had claimed credit for being the “go-between,” Assange’s active contributions are conspicuously absent from Snowden’s most recent description of events.
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