Edward Snowden Apparently Will Defect to Russia

Edward Snowden "press conference" July 12, 2013

Edward Snowden “press conference” July 12, 2013

It’s being reported in Russian newspapers that Edward Snowden has left the tiny hotel room at Sheremetyevo International Airport that has essentially served as his prison cell for the past month. Although it hasn’t been officially announced that Snowden has accepted Vladimir Putin’s terms and been granted asylum, there really isn’t any other likely explanation for the news of Snowden’s exit from the airport.

Snowden’s lawyer Anatoly Kucherena, who also serves in the public relations department of the Russian intelligence agency FSB, told Russia Today that Snowden plans to live in Russia and get a job there.

NSA leaker Edward Snowden plans to settle in Russia and is ready to begin a court battle if the country’s migration service denies his asylum plea, Anatoly Kucherena, a Russian lawyer who assists the whistleblower, told RT.

“It’s hard for me to say what his actions would be in terms of a positive decision [on the asylum plea],” Kucherena said. “We must understand that security is the number one issue in his case. I think the process of adaptation will take some time. It’s an understandable process as he doesn’t know the Russian language, our customs, and our laws.”

“He’s planning to arrange his life here. He plans to get a job. And, I think, that all his further decisions will be made considering the situation he found himself in,” he added.

Kucherena expressed hope that the whistleblower’s plea will be granted, because the reasons which prompted Snowden ask for political asylum in Russia “deserve attention.”

Yes, and I’m sure that Kucherena’s employers at the FSB agree that Snowden’s four laptops full of secret NSA also “deserve attention.”

In my morning post, I recommended an article by Michael Kelley of Business Insider: The Intel In Snowden’s Head Could Be More Damaging Than The Material He Leaked. If you haven’t read it yet, please do. Here’s an excerpt:

National Security Agency whistleblower/leaker Edward Snowden reportedly flew to Hong Kong carrying “four laptop computers that enable him to gain access to some of the US government’s most highly-classified secrets,” raising the concern that data could have been compromised in China or Russia.

But the information in his head may be more valuable, and accessible, than highly encrypted files.

Beyond trying to acquire information about the 10,000 NSA files Snowden accessed in Hawaii, a U.S. adversary would want to learn from Snowden’s expertise of internal NSA processes — such as its recruiting and vetting processes — to gain insight into America’s decision loop.

“Snowden understood exactly how far he could push [the NSA],” Robert Caruso, a former assistant command security manager in the Navy and consultant, told Business Insider. “That, coupled with his successful exploitation of our entire vetting process, makes him very dangerous.”

Basically, Snowden “transformed himself into the kind of cybersecurity expert the NSA is desperate to recruit” while he simultaneously developed the moral convictions motivating his leak of classified documents detailing the NSA’s global dragnet.

This afternoon, reacting to the announcement that Snowden will stay in Russia and get a job, Kelley writes:

The Moscow lawyer of NSA whistleblower/leaker Edward Snowden tells Russia Today that the 30-year-old is planning to spend the foreseeable future in Russia.

“He’s planning to arrange his life here. He plans to get a job,” Anatoly Kucherena, a Russian lawyer with links to the country’s intelligence service (i.e. FSB), told RT. “And, I think, that all his further decisions will be made considering the situation he found himself in.”

The situation he found himself in was being stuck in Russia after the U.S. voided his passport while he was in Hong Kong and Snowden flew to Moscow on a travel document from Ecuador‘s consul in London.

Kucherena, who sits on public council of the FSB, has been speaking for Snowden since July 12 — the day Snowden accepted all offers of support and asylum.

In the earlier of the two articles, Kelley linked to a July 12 post by Joshua Foust on Snowden’s airport “press conference” with members of Russian human rights groups. “Snowden’s… Defection?” I also previously linked  (see comments) to the Foust post.

Foust began by noting the presence at Snowden’s airport press conference of Olga Kostina, who among other things “runs PR for the FSB (Russia’s successor to the KGB).” Foust wrote:

As a rule, when a cleared intelligence employee seeks refuge in another country running a hostile intelligence service while carrying gigabytes of top secret documents, that isn’t the behavior of a whistleblower. That is the behavior of a defector. The involvement of known FSB operatives at his asylum acceptance – and the suddenly warm treatment of HRW and Transparency International after months of government harassment – suggests this was a textbook intelligence operation, and not a brave plea for asylum from political persecution.

Foust goes on to discuss the involvement of Wikileaks in getting Snowden to Russia. I’m not sure how much to buy into this hypothesis, but it bears watching.

The Russians are very good at what they do. And so, to be fair, is Wikileaks. The anti-secrecy organization (well, anti-other-people’s-secrecy considering the draconian NDAsthey make employees sign) has a close relationship to a renown holocaust denier named Israel Shamir who brags that he is Wikileaks’ representative to the Russian andBelarussian governments. John Schindler describes the connection:

Not surprisingly, awkward questions followed including in The Guardian, not exactly a right-wing rag. Reports followed – all links here are to The Guardian, which given that newspaper’s current involvement with the Snowden case should indicate something – that Shamir, is indeed deeply involved in the Wikileaks operation: As “Adam,” Shamir (along with his Swedish son, a well-known anti-Semitic activist), has a key role in Wikileaks decisionshe was the editor of the group’s Russian-related US diplomatic cables that were leaked by PFC Bradley Manning, and perhaps most distastefully, he was involved in a smear campaign against the Swedish women who accused Julian Assange of rape (the reason he remains holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London).

Foust notes that Wikileaks originally criticized Russia as much as they did the U.S., but they joined Snowden in praising Russia’s supposed concern for human rights in a statement published on the Wikileaks web site. Again, I’ll wait and see how this plays out; but Foust suggests that Snowden’s defection to Russia might not have been an accident.

Most of Snowden’s most prominent defenders were in touch with him long before he chose to leak; Wikileaks, which has developed deeper ties to the Russian and Belorussian governments, apparently helped Snowden travel to Moscow. This looks like the first trickle of information before a bizarre — and complex — intelligence operation gets blown open in the public. That doesn’t mean Wikileaks wittingly participated (useful idiots abound) but I bet money U.S. counterintelligence officials are now wondering just how deep the Russia connection to Snowden — and, to Wikileaks — really goes.

I have no doubt the Greenwald cult followers will continue to defend Snowden, but anyone who thinks his laptops are going to remain secret (if they haven’t already been compromised) under these circumstances is completely delusional. There’s nothing anyone can do at this point but sit back and watch the show.

Stay tuned.

26 Comments on “Edward Snowden Apparently Will Defect to Russia”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    This July 18 article is from the CIA-linked Jamestown Foundation, but still interesting speculation.

    Russian Intelligence Intends to Gag Snowden and Keep Him in Russia

    Anatoly Kucherena, a lawyer with strong links to the Kremlin, advised Snowden on the particulars of Russian refugee law and helped with the paperwork. “Temporary political asylum” does not exist in Russia, and permanent political asylum, while existing legally, is almost never given to anybody. Instead Russian authorities may grant refugee status, and in the end Snowden applied for “temporary refuge,” normally given to foreigners, who do not qualify as permanent refugees, but still cannot be deported, “because of humanitarian considerations.” The “temporary refuge” is typically granted for a year, but may be prolonged indefinitely. According to Kucherena, Snowden wants to stay in Russia permanently and may apply for Russian citizenship. Kucherena insisted that Snowden cannot be sent back to the United States, “since he may face death or torture” (RIA Novosti, July 16).

    Two weeks ago, when Snowden had just announced he changed his mind and will not seek asylum in Russia, a person with close connections to the Russian intelligence community told Jamestown on condition of anonymity: “Snowden will not go from here anywhere, we believe.” The source told Jamestown Snowden was not in fact dwelling in the Sheremetyevo transit zone, but was residing after arrival in Moscow at a safe house or “konsperativnaya spets dacha,” controlled by the Federal Security Service (FSB). Snowden’s behavior was described as erratic, but it was believed he will eventually come around and accept the conditions announced by Putin: to cease his anti-US revelations in the public domain and cooperate. The Russian intelligence community apparently believes it owes its US counterparts a favor to gag Snowden’s public campaign of embarrassing the NSA. The source told Jamestown the US spy community has kept from public disclosure information about Russia spying on its allies in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) that was disclosed by a “recent defector.” This defector could be former KGB Colonel Alexander Poteev, who defected in 2010 and was sentenced to 25 years in absentia in Moscow in 2011. Poteev disclosed a number of Russian spies, including the 10 “illegals,” among them Anna Chapman, who were expelled from the US in 2010.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Figuring out who to believe about events in Russia has been a real learning experience for me. I’m still learning, of course, and could make mistakes for sure.

      • I am skeptical about if you could believe anyone at this point, seems like everyone will want to keep things as vague as possible. But I do think you are right about Snowden playing according to the script written by the Russian powers that be, that is a definite.

    • bostonboomer says:

      A little more from the Jamestown article:

      Putin may be annoyed by the Snowden saga and by the NSA leaker’s apparent reluctance to act as a defector must act, but it seems the Russian intelligence services have insisted that keeping Snowden may work. Snowden apparently has passed on to journalists, including The Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald, a database of files he had stolen from the NSA; thus, the publication of damaging revelations may continue with Snowden himself gagged and holed up somewhere in Russia. Of course, from the point of view of the Russian intelligence services Snowden’s data discs without Snowden himself to verify their validity are not of much use—not real “documents,” but a collection of files of questionable origin. On the contrary, while holding Snowden (if it is, indeed, possible to tame him into full cooperation), the Russians could work through the database during a genuine debriefing procedure and collect useful insights into the NSA’s work. Serious problems may still arise, however, if Putin decides that Snowden has once again changed his mind, broken his word and is, in fact, continuing to publicly attack the US government and the NSA, using Moscow as a cover. Russian law does not allow the arbitrary expulsion of a person given “temporary refuge status,” but Putin’s wrath is known to have bent Russian law in different directions. It is not absolutely clear whether Snowden understands the actual circumstances he is in, or the rules of the place of his refuge.

  2. janicen says:

    I know I shouldn’t be surprised but I am. It seemed the only possible outcome and yet it’s still shocking. bb, thank you for keeping us informed. You’ve done astonishing work on this.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Thanks. It gets so confusing that Snowden is officially at the airport but may have been in a safe house all along. They do things differently over in Russia!

      • janicen says:

        Heh. That’s one way of putting it.

      • Greenwald is on twitter now, I feel a meltdown a coming.

      • Fannie says:

        If nothing else it’s made me go back and watch Sum of all fears – Day of the Jackal, etc. etc. Guess I am going to have to include a few Airport movies, damn the luck.

      • RalphB says:

        Great work BB! Thanks!!

      • roofingbird says:

        Agreed, this may the outcome. I would point out however, that if the US had not decommissioned his passport, we might be arguing the merits of Iceland’s secret service. So perhaps, this is where the US wanted him to wind up and we are playing WITH the Russians.

        Also, if he has obtained Russian temporary refugee status, and can now move around, there appears to be nothing to stop him from running to a safe harbor embassy.

        • bostonboomer says:

          He wouldn’t be in Iceland. They weren’t going to take him. I can’t see why the U.S. shouldn’t have tried to apprehend a criminal who fled the country, but I guess you have some rationalization for that notion that you’re not sharing. The passport was nullified while Snowden was in Hong Kong. He went to Russia on Wikileaks’ recommendation. How would the U.S. know that ahead of time?

          Sorry, but Russia’s system doesn’t work the same way as the U.S. If the government and the FSB want to keep someone under control, that’s what they’ll do (IF he gets refugee status–we don’t know that yet).

          As for your hypothesis that the U.S. would permit someone to steal thousands of secret documents, go to Russia and then “play” with Russia for some bizarre reason? You’re going to have to spell that out a lot more clearly, because it makes zero sense.

        • roofingbird says:

          I guess I should have added the word “metaphorically” to my statement- As in ” we might be […metaphorically arguing…]”

          Secondly, I never suggested that the US planned Snowden’s leaks, although any number of games could be in progress to manage the outcome and he is probably being used.

          Once his passport was decommissioned, there weren’t a lot of choices in air flights out of Hong Kong. The NSA/CIA would know every movement in Hong Kong. If they can get a court order for domestic police activity surveillance, they can certainly get it for emails of flight records etc. Remember, he hadn’t been granted refugee status anywhere and had
          few choices. We DON’T know know why he missed the Cuba plane. The CIA might have shot him in the streets and been done with it.

          Managing his migration to Russia, makes him look more like a defector, even if he is not intending it. It strengthens the espionage claim as opposed to sedition. You called him that earlier. So far he is a “maybe” refugee.

          • bostonboomer says:

            Actually, Snowden had official papers provided by the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Without them he couldn’t have left Hong Kong. It was the president of Ecuador who rescinded the papers. No flight records were necessary after Snowden and Wikileaks loudly announced that he was leaving HK and going to Moscow. But it was a sudden decision once Snowden learned he would be imprisoned in HK while waiting for a decision from them–and he would be without his precious internet.

            We know a lot. And you should know a lot too if you’ve read any of the articles I’ve posted over the past month. We know that Snowden was surrounded by FSB officers as he got off the plane from HK. He was never allowed to talk to the media–and there were hundreds of them waiting for him. The FSB has been in control of Snowden since he landed in Moscow. Even Snowden’s lawyer works for the FSB. You can believe otherwise all you want. That won’t change the reality of what happened.

            The idea that the U.S. and Russia would be cooperating on this in any way is simply ridiculous. Putin is playing a game of getting back at the US for the Magnitsky list, for the CIA spy they recently uncovered and made to look like an idiot, and for hypocritically criticizing Russia’s human rights record.

            Snowden is in no danger of being killed by the US. He isn’t even charged with crimes that would bring the death penalty. Sigh….

          • roofingbird says:

            So, you agree with me that this is being managed.

            The US and Russia cooperate in all kinds of things. If Snowden’s information is or ever was useful intelligence to anyone outside the US, neither country wants it in the hands of a smaller upstart.

            Thank you for reminding me about the Ecuadorian rescindment.

  3. bostonboomer says:

    Good to know that Joseph Cannon’s dog Bella has had her surgery and is recovering.


  4. bostonboomer says:

    Wikileaks Russian associate Israel Shamir has written an article for Counterpunch–admits his role in setting up Snowen’s news conference. He says Snowden “will soon receive a refugee ID.”


    More from a Russia expert and translator (pretty conservative) (See comments below).


    • Um, I’m not “conservative,” I’m a critic of Russia, an oppressive, autocratic state that more liberals should be critical of, but few are for various historical and contemporary reasons.

      I’m a registered Democrat and vote for most Democratic candidates. I voted for Obama the first time, but Romney the second time precisely because of Obama’s horrible policies (capitulation) on Russia. As you seem to be as skeptical of Snowden as I am, and you certainly don’t seem to carry any water for Shamir, I don’t get your need to write “pretty conservative” about what is basically *a translation* of his article, and some commentary which is all consistent with universal principles of liberalism.

      • bostonboomer says:


        I apologize for that. As I told you on Twitter, I’ve learned a great deal from reading your posts and tweets and following your links to Russian sources. I started following you after the Boston bombing, when I was trying to understand what drove the Tsarnaev brothers. I had no knowledge whatsoever of Russia or Chechnya, so I looked for people on Twitter who did know. I hope we’ve sorted this out now. Once again, I apologize for mischaracterizing your political views.

        I’ve really gone through a sea change on some issues lately, because I have been so unimpressed with Greenwald’s over-the-top coverage of Snowden and the NSA. The refusal of his cult followers to see the truth about Russia’s treatment of it’s own whistleblowers and dissidents while attacking their own country’s policies is maddening. How can we make necessary changes without recognizing reality?