Edward's Snowden's search for political asylum is not going well

Image: The Guardian

Wikileaks and various news agencies report that NSA leaker Edward Snowden has prepared asylum requests for (at least) 21 nations, including Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Finland, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Spain, Switzerland and Venezuela.

The government of Ecuador said they couldn't consider his request unless he was in Ecuador or inside one of their embassies. The US has revoked his passport, which makes getting anywhere difficult from his current (presumed) location: an international no-mans-land connected to Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport.

The AP's Eastern Europe News Director, Ian Phillips, flew there to try and find Snowden. He didn't, despite wardialing all floors of the prison-hotel where stateless passengers are held. But his surreal account of 21 hours in Snowden's shoes is a must-read.

If Snowden is in the transit zone, Phillips writes, "he may already have a taste of what it's like to be in prison."

But Snowden would very much like to avoid prison. Norway and Poland have replied to the former government security contractor's plea with what amounts to "fat chance." Russian president Putin said "only if you stop hurting America," which effectively means "nyet."

Reuters reports that "Finland, Spain, Ireland and Austria said he had to be in their countries to make a request, while India said 'we see no reason' to accept his petition. France said it had not received a request."

Russian news services report that the president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, defended Snowden while speaking to legislators and reporters at Russia's Parliament. “He did not kill anyone and he did not plant a bomb,” Maduro is quoted as having said in Russia, “He only said a big truth to prevent wars.”

Maduro continued, "We think this young person has done something very important for humanity, has done a favor to humanity, has spoken great truths to deconstruct a world... controlled by an imperialist American elite."

The Venezuelan leader said Snowden deserves protection under international law, but that the South American nation has not yet received his application for political asylum.

Would he take Snowden back from Russia to Venezuela with him, if he did receive such a request? Ever the pragmatist, Maduro replied, "What we're taking with us are multiple agreements that we're signing with Russia, including oil and gas."

It's getting hard to keep track of which countries have said what in response to Snowden's plea. Luckily, the Guardian has a scorecard here.

But as the prospects appear increasingly dim, remember: Snowden only needs one "yes." Well, that and safe passage.

Previously: Boing Boing archival coverage of Edward Snowden

Notable Replies

  1. I know I am the super minority and will likely get flamed for this, but I really believe that real civil disobedience must also include not running away.

  2. Who cares whether his strategy counts as "real civil disobedience"? Is there a panel somewhere which reviews political dissidents to judge whether they've met the official criteria? Why would we evaluate actions by this weird metric, when we could look at the effect they've had on the real world?

    Maybe what you mean to say is "committing a crime for political reasons is never legitimate unless you turn yourself in afterwards". In effect: nobody should ever do what Snowden did, unless they are literally suicidal. Letting yourself be executed is a pre-requisite for this type of protest.

    Sometimes I think we prefer martyrs to heroes. Why is it that dead anti-establishment figures are celebrated, while the living ones are demonized?

  3. It DOES make sense. This is because if you fly to Iceland (or wherever) and say you want asylum, they ask, "What for? You haven't done anything." and reject you. Or you apply for citizenship, and in the middle of it, you go, "Look, USA, here are a bunch of NSA leaks." And then Iceland goes, heck no, we don't want this guy anymore and deny citizenship and deport. Or you go through the lengthy, years-long-process of citizenship and only at the end of it, you leak all the stuff, which is old news five years later. There is NO GOOD OPTION. The best option is what Snowden has done, albeit, perhaps, not precisely how he's done it. But I don't know.

    I don't think he's lost yet. He's in international space, waiting for papers to go somewhere. He's not apparently in police or state custody, just there in the transit section: limbo. Not a bad position to be in, for a wanted man. I don't think he has been boxed into a corner yet, like Assange. Assange doesn't have 50 airline gates to choose from to fly out of.

    Now the PRESS is saying, he's at an impasse, nobody wants him, he's stuck, etc etc etc. They'll opt for maximum drama. But the reality is he's in that room, like in the original Star Trek, with portals to hundreds of different places in the Universe. He has to get his papers, then he walks through one of those doors.

    These places on the other sides of these doors are all assessing their situations, like Ecuador: "OK, the US is a capricious nation. They WILL withhold hundreds of millions of dollars from us, if we accept this guy. What do we have to gain? What do we have to lose?" This risk-assessment takes a while.

    Putin admitted to that national risk assessment the other day. "He has to stop hurting the US if he wants to stay here." That means they looked at all the options regarding Snowden, and realized that he would do more harm than good if he kept leaking and got to stay in Russia. For those very same reasons: the US would most certainly withhold money from Russian trade, etc., as payback.

    I can't predict the endpoint, but I can say this: there would have been no sense in seeking asylum first and then leaking the leaks. It couldn't have happened that way. It has to be seek interim safety > leak the leaks > seek permanent safety

    failing permanent safety, then > seek fairness and openness and return home to face the music

    Under no circumstances is it sane or rational to willingly subject yourself to the treatment that Bradley Manning has received. Or to subject yourself to evil people who would silence you. That's not sane and rational. We do not live in Mayberry anymore.

    We live in a country that has many good, and great people. But there are a few, exceedingly powerful people who will stop at no evil to get what they want. Those are the people to rationally fear and avoid, which is what Ed Snowden is understandably doing.

  4. Has anything benefited from what happened to Bradley Manning? If not, is there any reason so many people like you would want the same thing for Edward Snowden, beside some kind of hatred for whistle-blowers? And if not cases like this, what do you think asylum is for?

  5. Snowden strikes me as typical of many engineers who think that because they know a lot about computers means that they are always the smartest person in the room. Right now he's horribly out of his depth. He misjudged Hong Kong's willingness to give him a favorable hearing in their legal system. He failed to predict that the US Government could and would cancel his passport, and how that would restrict his ability to travel. He trusted Wikileaks to provide safe passage to Ecuador, overestimating Assange's ability to influence their government. That left him marooned in Moscow, and at the whim of Vladimir Putin.

    Now he's left firing scattershot asylum requests, but his association with Wikileaks and his determination to keep leaking creates a headache for any country that dares take him in. If there's a grand strategy or goal he has here, it's a poorly thought out one. We may all be impressed with his encrypted files or storing mobile phones in fridges to disrupt signals, but he didn't understand the geopolitics of what he has done. It's going to leave him with a very rough life.

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