Snowden may never have gone to Russia

The BBC reports that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says that Edward Snowden has not entered Russia at all -- but he and the rest of the country are mighty resentful of all the US officials who've been claiming that he was kidnapped by Russian authorities. Wikileaks says they know where Snowden is, and that he never went to Russia in the first place.

Meanwhile, saber-rattling American politicians are claiming that the big risk from Snowden is that he's had his laptop spirited away by foreign spies and the "four laptop harddrives" copied before it was returned. Apparently, none of these politicos have heard of whole disk encryption, and missed the bit when the story of Snowden's identity broke where Glenn Greenwald described the fact that he only logged into his laptop with a blanket covering him and it, so no one could video-record his keystrokes with a hidden camera.

"We are in no way involved with either Mr Snowden, his relations with US justice, nor to his movements around the world," Mr Lavrov said.

"He chose his itinerary on his own. We learnt about it... from the media. He has not crossed the Russian border.

"We consider the attempts to accuse the Russian side of violating US laws, and practically of involvement in a plot, to be absolutely groundless and unacceptable."

Edward Snowden has not entered Russia - Sergei Lavrov (via Hacker News)


  1. Blanket is fine, but what about the video camera that are integral to his ….CYBORG EYES?

    1. That’s a fair joke, but actually a blanket is not sufficient, unless it’s a blanket enmeshed with metal fibers.  Any spy agency worth their salary could sense the keystrokes remotely from the EM radiation.

      No, I’m not making that up– it’s possible.

      Also, whole disk encryption doesn’t mean anything, except that it would slow down the spies for a few hours at most.

      1. If you are claiming that disk encryption can be defeated in a few hours, you need to provide an explanation.  Because strong cryptography is mathematically unbreakable, even for the NSA.

        Propagating the myth that government spies are all powerful and can defeat any encryption or anonymity technology is a council of despair.  It encourages people to give up and not bother to secure their data, because only chumps would think it offers any protection.

        In fact, ordinary people have a lot more power to keep secrets from the NSA than we’ve been led to believe.  We just need to start using that power.

        1. “The magic words are squeamish ossifrage”
           – RSA message encoded in 1977 by Ron Rivest.

          Rivest estimated that breaking this message by factoring the 125-digit number would require 40 quadrillion years. It was broken using idle times on machines connected to the internet.

          Granted, a mathematical shortcut was also found that reduced the computing cycles needed. But the age of quantum computing has arrived:

          In May, NASA and Google co-purchased a quantum computer from a D-Wave in Canada.  D-Wave’s 2007 demonstration used a 16-qubit device. By 2011, the D-Wave One machine purchased by Lockheed Martin had 128 qubits. This year’s D-Wave Two, the model acquired by Google and collaborators including NASA, has 512 qubits. They expect to have a 2048 qubit chip sometime in 2014 for running Google image classifier and Lockheed Martin bug free software proving algorithm.

          D-Wave is a small company.  With the NSA’s budget, I’d be surprised if they weren’t years ahead of D-Wave.

          Granted, that doesn’t mean that they’re breaking strong cryptography.  But it’s not at all far-fetched to think that they might be, or will be very soon.

          1. As I understand it, D-Wave’s chip does quantum annealing, which isn’t really applicable to any decryption technique. Even if fast, high qubit, general-computing quantum computers existed, they can provably only halve the effective key-length of most symmetric ciphers: this is the very reason it’s typical to use AES-256 instead of 128, which would be sufficient against traditional computers.

            Most public-key ciphers currently in use would be pretty trashed by powerful quantum computers, but there are some, not yet in common use, believed to be safe.  These are worth exploring but as far as we know the largest number factored by a quantum computer is 15 which suggests there’s no reason to be too scared yet:×5-about-half-time

        2. I agree with your main point, but “mathematically unbreakable” is far too strong of a phrase here.  First of all, any encryption scheme with a key smaller than the message size, or using the same key for multiple messages, can be broken given enough time.  It just so happens that we try to choose keys long enough so that time is greater than the age of the universe.

          The problem is, nobody can know for sure if there’s a smart way to find the keys quicker – we just have a lot of people looking for weaknesses and assume if enough people look at it for long enough, and nobody finds any significant weakness, it’s OK.  However, the story behind DES suggests that the NSA can be up to 15 years ahead of the public in finding new attacks.  If you could mathematically prove that an encryption scheme were strong then that would imply P != NP, and you would have at least a million dollars of prizes and other accolades.

          That being said, it’s probable that at least some of the available encryption schemes are strong if used properly, and people should use them.  Even if weaker than we believe, most cryptographic attacks do not break keys instantly, they just require a reduced amount of search time, and if enough people are using it, it’s infeasible for the NSA to make large, searchable databases of everything.

  2. Also staying in the transit zone of an airport equals “not crossing the border into Russia”.
    Given that nobody recognized him on the flight from Hong Kong Im still sceptical that he is there though.

    1. There were no photos of him in transit or at a destination.  They’d have been published.  WikiLeaks had enough time to send a crack team to Hong Kong, give a guy of similar build a similar haircut as Ed’s, go down to the street vendors to pick up some similar glasses, and put that look-alike on a plane to Moscow with the guy’s own passport.  So no Ed Snowden would have showed up crossing that border.

      Meanwhile, the real Ed Snowden, in a different look, no glasses, no shiny shirt, took a direct flight from Hong Kong to Quito, with a woman, making them look like a couple.  After all, he was traveling with diplomatic papers from Ecuador, so the airline would have had no problem letting him pass through undetected, keeping everything quiet along the way.  That was his best shot: the first one.  Got papers, go there.

      With the cooperation of the flight crew and direct orders from Correa, they could have stopped anywhere to refuel, even Hawaii again, with Ed onboard, and the American authorities would suspect nothing.  Ed would have ducked into the lavatory during the layover…

      Meanwhile, the smokescreen story was a trip to Moscow, or Cuba, or Venezuela, anything red and communist and enraging.  It worked.  Kerry, Congress, NSA, basically every American authority is enraged.  Blinded by it.  So blinded by it, they are insulting China, Russia and everyone they can throw a spitball at, because they are petulant amateurs.

      Clearly we know who the pros are, now.  It’s not our lovely government.  God bless the Constitution!  America!!!  :-)

      1. My intitial guess was that he would go to Hanoi and take the flight home with Ecuador’s foreign secretary.

        1. Yep!  That’s likely.  It would have been the most straightforward.  The whole “flight to Moscow” thing could even have been true: HK -> Hanoi -> Moscow.  He just skipped the last leg and jumped on the foreign secretary’s plane.

    2. I never believed he went to Russia. It’s too unpredictable. I’d pretend to go to Russia and then take a totally different route instead. Best way to throw people off the scent.

      1. Also, by throwing Russia and China into the ring, he draws on an embedded cultural context of hysterical anxiety about the two, which will attract bait-snapping politicians onto the soap boxes and have everyone shouting and screaming about those two.

        Had he chosen Norway and Cameroon, there would have been less general kerfuffle and more attention paid.

        Remember folks – the guy’s very smart, he’s had spook training, and he’s dedicated.

        I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a photo of him downing a beer in front of the White House!

        1. Giving US politicians this golden opportunity to make an ass of themselves was certainly a masterstroke. There must be a lot of sprained knees from all that jerking.

  3. Sometimes it’s the low tech solutions that are really best for the situation.

    Whatever the case I hope Mr. Snowden is well.

    Do wish he really did have an anon-dummy on the plane that when prodded after landing had the trololol guy singing.

  4. Andrew, I think the troll song will turn out to be highly appropriate here ;)

    Also, a question. When you fly over a national border, does that count as crossing it or not?

    1. Pretty sure it doesn,t, or on some European flights you’d spend practically the whole flight checking passports…

      1. That would be incredibly fun, actually. We could start some sort of passport-bowl game: at destination, you have to share a coffee with the guy/girl whose passport you picked from the bowl.

      2. It does if you’re talking about the United States – Any plane flying over the US needs to have its passenger manifest sent to DHS, and you need to have a passport.

        I guess the theory is that even if the plane is (for example) just going Toronto to Mexico, a passenger could do something nasty that would affect the US.  SO I suppose that means the purpose is security rather than immigration issues.

        For the EU though, once you’re in, there isn’t really any border control between countries to speak of when you’re on the ground, so it shouldn’t be any different in the air anyway.

    2. Not technically.  Technically, you must be processed at the port of call.  Every international terminal has customs, and besides the long queues and officers checking passports, above them is a sign welcoming travelers to that country.  So, you might be physically in Moscow, but until you have spoken to an agent and they’ve stamped your passport and you walk in, you are not “there” yet.

      1. I’ve walked through border control in the UK, France and Greece without anyone speaking to me or seeing my passport.

  5. Sending the US corporate media and US corporate government on wild goose chases?  … Priceless.

    1. I know, I can’t believe it.  Singlehandedly, he sent scores, if not HUNDREDS of journalists into every major communist country looking for him.  He sent a few dozen right to Cuba!!!  Meanwhile, he probably went precisely in the other direction, I’m guessing straight to Ecuador.  His girlfriend, who was “lost at sea” is sailing down to Quito to meet him.  What a great story, but it’s not over yet.

      1. I really do hope so since that’d just be the capper here. Guy leaves home and loved ones and then the girlfriend sails thorugh hell to meet him out in the tropics.

      2. I shudder at the thought of all these hacks left to roam La Havana for three days with nothing to do. Expect a wave of columns on Buena Vista Social Club / how the city is boring because there are no shops / how Cubans carry mobile phones they can’t actually use / how wonderful and lively Cuba is and “now I understand why Jay-Z and Beyonce came here to party”.

      3. It’s kind of a Bondian Rom Com in the style of Frank Capra.

        Wikipedia on Frank Capra:  “the public loved his films, especially during the Great Depression years, when audiences needed uplifting themes of inspiration. His pictures let viewers witness “a triumph of the individual over corrupt leaders”, and experience “inherent qualities of kindness and caring for others.”

        Any Snowdenian/Jimmy Stewart type actors in the house? We’re going to need to travel. Kickstarter, may be necessary. (Zero Dark Thirty, my ass.)

  6. this is wonderfull, its like our generations great train robbery, except the only crime is that of government.

    1. Only in the movie adaptation where him and Obama have a bare knuckle drag out in the oval office.

      Obama: Snowden. You’re in my chair!
      Snowden: This chair belongs to the american people you overhyped puppet! *pulls knife*

        1. Peanuts version: he snaps President Obama with his blanket, trips him, then ties him up with it.

      1. The President, no stranger to verbal dust-ups, glimpses the shining edge of the blade and grimaces with anxiety.  Recalling the security briefing that the Oval Office was the one location in the USA where surveillance was forbiddden and impossible, he grunts and hopes that was another mandate the NSA sidestepped.

        Crouching into a surfer’s stance he lunges at Snowden’s midriff, catching him unawares, and the entwined jerking bodies crash through the window and plunge towards the …

        1. …robot that he had given Malia for her birthday, parked in quiet mode on the Truman balcony.

          “Kids!” the President thought through his brain’s gritted teeth.  He threw a knotted fist at Snowden.  

          “Pick.  Up.  Your.  Toys!” he heard his own voice bleat, punctuating every word with another hard-landing blow.  Snowden only heard a determined, presidential hissing, and felt the hard knuckles connecting, but not to any target of consequence.  He rolled with each strike, kicking himself away from the furious exec.

          In a rare shared breath, the two locked eyes.  Between them flew betrayal and accusation, enraged fury and calm resolve, all crackling through the air, heavy with manly static.  Someone was second guessing themselves.  He looked askance.

          The President’s eyes landed on the knife, lying on the marble portico like an ice sculpture at a state dinner.  Cold, untouchable, but inviting.  He threw his long body across the floor, reaching for the deadly tool.

          Snowden swiftly rolled opposite and his body stopped as it hit the robot.  He flipped up the access panel at once, revealing the control panel.  

          “Yes, this is it,” he thought, as the President wrapped his fingers around the knife.  “Just like in the Botherington Scenario!”

          The President’s fury resolved to an icy determination.  Now he had means.  

          Snowden tapped wildly at the robot’s control panel.

          The President’s eyes narrowed.  He lurched towards Snowden.

          A crimson light came on in the control panel.

          Snowden smiled.

          1. POTUS froze.  Sweat stung his eyes.  His coiled muscles ached from unfamiliar effort, this wasn’t his turf, he couldn’t talk his way out of this one.

            Behind that smile – menace, confidence, certainty – he’d seen this in Chicago, angry street kids, determined and steely – but never directed at him, and it made his blood run cold.

            He could hear pounding footsteps in the distance, rounding the ancient stone of the building.  A buzz overhead.  Monitors.  People knew – they knew what was happening.  This would be taken care of.

            The machine animated itself, Snowden stepped back, grinning.  He’d hacked this thing months ago, knew it inside and out, and had programmed it to modify itself – now, to see if it had all worked.

          2. I hope Snoden is sitting in an Ecuadorian ‘net cafe reading this thread right now and having a good chuckle.

  7. Quite an impressive act of vanishment. Of course it helps that he probably has one or more foreign governments turning a blind eye to his activities. I think this suggests too that the USG relies excessively on signals intelligence, and if you can beat them at that game it turns out that their human intelligence is mediocre. But that’s been the case for a long time.

  8. What I would dearly like to see is Snowden turning up on the web to prove his safe and comfortable exile in an undisclosed country.   Eventually it may become clear where the refuge is, but to have the world going nuts with speculation for a few more weeks would be highly entertaining.

  9. At this point, I would not be surprised if he’s already at his destination and has been there for awhile.   And if he’s smart, he’s under a new name, with a passport generously issued by that country, and he’s not going to come out of hiding.  This information comes at a cost, though, he may have to give up something to get this freedom and privelledge, but he’ll be hidden and safe.  If he shows himself, that’s when he’ll be in trouble, that’s when they’ll find him.

  10. I think your article is very misleading. He is (was?) in Russia, but since he stayed air-side in the airport, he didn’t go through customs etc. 

      1.  Since both Wikileaks and Putin say he’s there, why do you think he’s not? Have you searched all of Russia and not-seen him there? :p

    1. Nobody saw him, though.  At all.  He communicated with nobody.  Hong Kong never said he went to Russia, only that he departed the country.

      I really don’t think he ever went to Russia.

      1. The CBC is reporting that Reuters is reporting that Putin says Snowden is still in the transit area. Also, why do I get the red squiggly line under Snowden when I type it? NSA must be flagging my posts AS I TYPE. (It underlines NSA too)

  11. Snowden took his job at Booz Hamilton for the purposes of obtaining secret documents to leak. That leads me to believe he’s had his endgame planned out for months and is probably several steps ahead of everyone — including the CIA — so we’ll all just have to wait and see where he turns up.

  12. That sound you hear is several dozen movie producers in a free-for-all steel-cage death match, where the winner gets the film rights for this story.

    The sound you hear behind that is the weeping-in-frustration coming from the NSA, State Department, et al.

    1. Only hard part is deciding if it should be serious or farce.

      IE Zer0-Dark Thirty styled ultra-serious docu-drama approach that gets the details all sorts of wrong.

      Or do we go with intentionally bad puppeting or animating like with team america?

      1. In this case, playing it seriously would look like a farce, so I say let’s go with that.

        James Franco should play Snowden, with a supporting cast of Muppets.

        1. I’d go with Paul Walker as Snowden, Tyrese Gibson as Obama and Vin Diesel as Putin. The Rock can play the rest of the characters.

    1. So, he’s not in Russia.

      I wonder, who’s in charge there? What would happen if the US would grab him there and put him into a flight to Gitmo, via one of the ‘secret’ torture chambers worldwide? I mean, except for destroying the last bit of credibility the US admin has, this should be a clean solution.

      Maybe he just watched his movies.
      Catch me if you can, The Terminal, …

      1. It’d be cleaner to just throw him out of the plane Argentine style and deny ever having had him. I mean, once you decide there are no limits to what the U.S. government will do, why bother with Gitmo?

  13. I knew it.  Now nobody knows where he is, and half of them are looking on the wrong side of the planet.

    He has managed to create a planetwide search.  This from a single hotel room – we all knew where he was for a day, then he vanished.

    I sincerely hope he has not come to harm.  I seriously doubt he does not have a plan.  The main question is whether his plan will work.

  14. Good grief. He “never went to Russia” only in the technical sense that he did not formally enter Russia. This is not a brilliant end game, it’s a technicality. So much for the “wild goose chase” and the crack teams from Wikileaks.

    I wonder if he’ll end up at the Ecuadorian embassy in Moscow. That’d still be awkward for the Russians, since he’d have to go through border control, but the fact that the Russians are sticking with the “transit area” fiction is already awkward, so what the hell, right?

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