According to Edward Jay Epstein in the WSJ, there are still many unanswered questions regarding Edward Snowden’s theft of NSA documents. Many of these questions surround his trip to Hong Kong. Snowden arrived in Hong Kong on May 20. However, between May 20 and May 31, 2013, there is no record that he used his credit card or checked into a hotel anywhere in Hong Kong–essentially, he disappeared. This contradicts Snowden’s own claims that he checked into Mira Hotel as soon as he arrived in Hong Kong. So, where was Snowden during that time?
The lawyers who had been retained by an anonymous party for him in Hong Kong have not been forthcoming. One of them, Albert Ho, told New York Times bureau chief Keith Bradsher that Mr. Snowden had assistance from a “well-connected” resident of Hong Kong with whom he had been acquainted prior to his arrival. This person acted as Mr. Snowden’s “carer” and arranged safe houses for Mr. Snowden both in Hong Kong and in the adjacent New Territories. Mr. Ho declined to further identify the carer.
Robert Tibbo, another lawyer, told me in Hong Kong that he had escorted Mr. Snowden to at least one of the safe houses prepared for him. Mr. Tibbo also declined to identify Mr. Snowden’s carer.
When we start talking about “safe houses”, we are talking tradecraft, as in spying. His are not the activities of a whistle blower, but of a spy being debriefed.
Epstein’s article goes on to note that in his NSA career, Snowden deliberately sought and received a transfer from Dell to Booz Allen Hamilton, so he could, in his own words, get “access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked.” Here, we are not talking about home PCs in the US (he already had access to that information at Dell), but government and military computers in Russia and China. This was in March, 2013. Effectively, as soon as he downloaded the information being sought, he skipped town. Again, none of this sounds like the activities of a whistle blower. While the US public has a right to know the extent of NSA spying into their lawful, routine activities, there is no compelling national interest in exposing US government spying on countries which have nuclear missiles pointed at the US. And indeed, Snowden has yet to reveal publicly the details as to what information he stole at Booz Allen Hamilton.
Instead of being a whistle blower, more logically Snowden was a spy working jointly for the Chinese and the Russians. While the data he stole at Dell may have amused his handlers and could prove useful later on as a distraction and as a way to publicly humiliate the US government and undermine US programs against China and Russia, this data was not what his handlers were looking for, so they had him transfer to Booz Allen Hamilton. Given the risks, they had to move him to a safe haven as soon as he procured the information they were seeking. China, ever concerned about public relations, did not want him to come to the mainland, so they had him come to Hong Kong instead. As soon as they finished debriefing him, they had him meet useful tool Greg Greenwald and assume whistle-blower status. They could then publicly wash their hands of Snowden, and let him “flee” to Moscow, for a second round of debriefings.
The only real question was Snowden’s motivation for betraying his country. It could not have been money, as he was already exceedingly well-paid. Rather, it appears that his main motivation was the oikophobia so prevalent among many in the US. Snowden is on record as saying that he somehow thought China was more democratic, freer, and open than the US. None of this is even remotely true, yet it seems that so many people of the US have become so hateful towards their own country and the deficiencies they imagine it has that they are willing to believe such bat guano.
Whatever the case, we need to stop lionizing Snowden as some sort of “hero”. If he wanted to blow the whistle on illegal NSA spying, he should have stayed in the US and he would have given a full accounting of his activities.