Snowden’s Kremlin Connection

Posted August 26th, 2013 at 7:23 pm (UTC+0)
1 comment

Edward Snowden spent one month in Hong Kong at the The Mira. The website announces: “The Mira Hong Kong equals matchless indulgence for the young-at-heart modern traveller. With its hip interiors, innovative cuisine, crisp amenities and uniquely passionate service culture, the hotel has created a new benchmark.” On June 21, a U.S. arrest warrant cut short Snowden’s stay. According to officials in Moscow, he packed his bags and moved across Victoria Harbor to the Russian Consulate. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said WikiLeaks paid for Snowden’s hotel bill in Hong Kong — probably around $10,000. Photo: WiNG

Friday, June 21, was the hottest day of the year in Hong Kong – a sweltering 34 degrees. But it was also a hot day for Edward Snowden, the leaker of American secrets hiding out in China’s Special Administrative Region.

In Washington on that day, U.S. federal prosecutors made public allegations of unauthorized communication of classified and national defense information, both charges under the Espionage Act.

In Hong Kong on that day, Snowden received a one-way ticket to Moscow, on Aeroflot, Russia’s state-controlled flag carrier. On that day, he celebrated his 30th birthday in the safety of his new refuge – the Russian Consulate General in Hong Kong.

Located on the 21st floor of a steel and glass skyscraper, the Russian Consulate offered more than a stunning view of Victoria Harbor – it offered shelter from an American arrest warrant.

For two days and two nights, Snowden stayed at the 17-room Russian Consulate before being whisked by car in the early morning hours of Sunday, June 23, for the 10-hour Aeroflot flight to Moscow.

For two days before flying to Moscow, Edward Snowden took refuge in the offices of the Russian Consulate General in Hong Kong, located on the 21st floor of the Sun Hung Kai Centre, a 53-story building that overlooks Victoria Harbor. Photo: WiNG

That is the picture that emerges in a front-page article Monday in Moscow’s Kommersant newspaper, based on Russian sources, and from my own interviews with Western sources here.

From the start of Snowden’s Russia saga, Russian officials claimed that they were surprised by Snowden’s arrival June 23 at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport.

“It is true that Mr. Snowden arrived in Moscow, and it really came as a surprise to us,” President Vladimir Putin told reporters in Finland on June 25. “Any accusations against Russia (of aiding him) are ravings and rubbish.”

Later, Russia’s president called Snowden an “an unwanted Christmas present.”

Sources in Moscow differ on how Snowden ended up in the care of Russia.

Some say the Chinese wanted to get rid of Snowden and advised him to try the Russians. Others say Russian officials contacted Snowden at The Mira, the luxury hotel where he was staying in Hong Kong. Another version is that Snowden took a cab from The Mira, passed through the tunnel under Victoria Harbor, got out at the curb of the Sun Hung Kai Centre skyscraper, took an elevator to the 21st floor, and then knocked on the door of the Russian Consulate.

Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, said on June 24 that WikiLeaks paid Snowden’s hotel bill in Hong Kong and bought the Aeroflot ticket for him with a Hong Kong-Moscow-Havana itinerary.

Assange, founder of the group that specializes in publicizing confidential U.S. government communications, has a special relationship with RT, the Kremlin-funded television channel. Last year, RT hired Assange to host a political talk show. The channel, which used to be called Russia Today, gives heavy – and invariable favorable — coverage to Assange, Snowden, and the other American leaker in the news, Bradley (he prefers Chelsea) Manning.

Edward Snowden at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on July 12, flanked by an unidentified translator on his left, and Sarah Harrison of Wikileaks on his right. Photo: Human Rights Watch

On Monday, Kommersant and other Russian media dwelled on why Snowden never used the second half of his Aeroflot ticket, from Moscow to Havana. The Russian press said that Moscow was stuck with Snowden because Washington pressured Havana to refuse him.

To many in Moscow, Havana has been curiously quiet on the Snowden affair. Soviet-generation Russians remember Cuba as the nation that welcomed American airplane hijackers well into the 1980s.

But change comes even to Cuba, ruled for the last half century by the Castro brothers. In June, President Raul Castro turned 82. Apparently, Cuba’s new generation wants a fresh start with Washington. For Havana, giving refuge to America’s most wanted man is a throwback to the 1960s.

Snowden spent almost six weeks Moscow’s busiest international airport, reportedly in the transit area.

Snowden’s stay at Sheremetyevo Airport was handled very professionally. There were no leaks, no emails to reporters, and no late night telephone calls to his girlfriend in Hawaii. About 3.5 million passengers flowed in and out of the airport during that time, but there were no credible Snowden sightings.

His legal limbo dragged on, according to one Western source here, because Alexander Bortnikov, director of Russia’s FSB, the successor agency to the KGB, hinted to Washington that a spy trade might be possible.

The mystery surrounding Snowden also kept Moscow at the center of international news attention for six weeks.

The sole sighting was on July 12, at a carefully choreographed meeting that a select group of NGOs had at the airport with Snowden and Sarah Harrison, his WikiLeaks traveling companion.

One invitee at that meeting was Anatoly Kucherena, the man who became Snowden’s lawyer and spokesman. It was Kucherena who advised Snowden to drop his asylum requests to other countries – 20 at best count. He should focus on Russia.

Mission Accomplished: On August 1, Edward Snowden, former NSA employee, received his Russian asylum visa. Photo: AP

Snowden’s lawyer has an interesting background.

Two years ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin picked Kucherena to serve on Russia’s Public Chamber, a government oversight body. Putin, a former KGB Colonel, also chose Kucherena to serve on a board that oversees the FSB.

On the Snowden case, Kucherena’s legal advice proved solid. On Aug. 1, Snowden was granted one-year asylum in Russia. That day, he and Sarah Harrison left the airport. They have not been seen in public since.

Within hours after Snowden’s departure, WikiLeaks issued a statement thanking the Russian Government. Assange added: “This is another victory in the fight against Obama’s war on whistleblowers. This battle has been won, but the war continues.”

Two months ago, on June 25, just after Snowden arrived in Moscow, the South China Morning Post published an interview that had taken place earlier in Hong Kong. In the interview, Snowden said that early this year he took a pay cut and joined Booz Allen Hamilton, the contractor with the National Security Agency. He said his sole purpose was to steal the U.S. government’s cyber spying secrets.

Now that Snowden and his four NSA laptop computers are in the safekeeping of the Kremlin, one question begs an answer: when exactly did the Kremlin enter Snowden’s life?
UPDATE: Fidel Castro denies that Cuba buckled to US pressure.
If true, whose hidden hand kept Snowden off the June 24 Aeroflot flight from Moscow to Havana?

BUENOS AIRES, August 28 (RIA Novosti) – Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, has denied Russian media reports that US fugitive intelligence contractor Edward Snowden stayed in Russia rather than fly to Havana because Cuba succumbed to US pressure to deny him entry.
“I admire the courage and justice of Snowden’s statements with which he, in my opinion, provided a service to the world,” Castro wrote in an article published Wednesday night on Cuban internet portal Cubadebate. “What I do not agree with is that anyone, regardless of his credentials, spoke on behalf of Cuba.”
The Russian daily Kommersant reported Monday, citing sources, that Cuba, under pressure from the US, would have denied landing to a Moscow-Havana flight if Snowden were on board.
Dismissing the report as a “lie,” Castro went on to say that the US “always tries to pressure the United Nations, other governments and private organizations around the world.” Cuba, he said, having resisted America for 54 years, remains ready to resist “as long as it takes.”

James Brooke
James Brooke is the Russia/CIS bureau chief for Voice of America. A lifelong journalist, he covered West Africa, Brazil, the American Rocky Mountain States, Canada, and Japan/Korea for The New York Times. A resident of Moscow since 2006, he was first Bloomberg bureau chief for the region. In 2010, he joined VOA. In addition to writing Russia Watch, his weekly blog, he also does video, radio and web reports from Russia and the former USSR.

One response to “Snowden’s Kremlin Connection”

  1. Albert W. L. Moore, Jr. says:

    Proofing quibble: Shouldn’t “Putin, a former KBG Colonel” be “Putin, a former KGB Colonel”?
    More substantively, does James Brooke realize that Putin and Obama are both Comintern agents, actively scheming with one another generally to make the world safe for totalitarian rule, and more specifically with other Comintern agents ruling North Korea and China to inflict an EMP assault on the United States from a North Korean satellite already in polar orbit, so that the Obama cabal can subjugate America to communist dictatorship and facilitate communist conquest around the world? For an introduction to Putin, former KGB Colonel specializing in terrorist attacks and political assassination, read “The Terminal Spy” a book by Alan S. Cowell of The New York Times et al. Leopards do not readily change their spots, nor secret agents their habits. Obama also has intelligence roots; probably he and Putin go ‘way back.
    And does Edward Snowden realize all this, or is he just an idealistic babe in the woods? Will he see the light, cross Putin as Alexander Litvinenko did, and meet a similar fate? Again, read “The Terminal Spy”.
    It will be interesting to learn, if we ever do, what role the Wikileaks (WikiLeaks?) people are really playing.



James Brooke is VOA Moscow bureau chief, covering Russia and the former USSR. With The New York Times, he worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa, Latin America, Canada and Japan/Koreas. He studied Russian in college during the Brezhnev years, first visited Moscow as a reporter during the final months of Gorbachev, and then came back for reporting forays during the Yeltsin and early Putin years. In 2006, he moved to Moscow to report for Bloomberg. He joined VOA in Moscow in 2010. Follow Jim on Twitter @VOA_Moscow.



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