Monday, June 24, 2013

Russian Hospitality: Why Snowden Picked Moscow as His Transit Point

It seems Moscow is a safe enough place for whistle-blowers to seek some respite, however temporary.

Photos of Snowden, a contractor at the NSA, and U.S. President Obama are printed on the front pages of local English and Chinese newspapers in Hong Kong in this illustration photo

Photos of Edward Snowden, a former contractor at the National Security Agency, printed on the front pages of local English- and Chinese-language newspapers in Hong Kong on June 11, 2013.

When the pilot announced his plane’s descent toward Moscow on Sunday, whistle-blower Edward Snowden, one of the most wanted men in the U.S., would have had reason to be both nervous and relieved. There are not many countries left on the planet where he can safely set foot since he leaked a trove of secrets from the National Security Agency in the past weeks. But at least as a transit point, Russia was likely a reliable bet. It has no extradition treaty with Washington, and Snowden would not be the first Western whistle-blower to get a bit of help in Russia.

In 2001, the first full year of Vladimir Putin’s presidency, Richard Tomlinson, a former officer of the British foreign-intelligence service MI6, was looking to publish a memoir laced with secrets. British authorities tried hard to keep his revelations under wraps, even sentencing him to a year in prison for exposing official secrets when he sent his manuscript around to publishers. He served five months of that sentence in 1997. But after his release, a fly-by-night firm in Moscow — which had all the outward trappings of a front for the Russian security services — agreed to print his memoir; it was the only book that publisher ever released. Titled The Big Breach, Tomlinson’s work alleged many embarrassing things about the British intelligence services, including plans to kill foreign leaders like Muammar Gaddafi and Slobodan Milosevic. 

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