Over the course of a few short weeks, Edward Snowden has transformed himself from an international man of cloak-and-dagger intrigue, single-handedly exposing the innermost workings of the National Security Agency, to the hapless leaker who came to dinner.
It was just a hint that Snowden’s fortunes were about to take a turn for the worse when Ecuador started having second thoughts about granting asylum to a very much wanted man by the United States. That pretty much leaves Brigadoon, the Grand Duchy of Fenwick, Freedonia and a Potemkin village as options for the de facto stateless Snowden. He may well be ruing his decision to hop a flight out of Hong Kong when he might have managed to seek solace in the humanitarian arms of the Chinese.
Then again, to paraphrase Humphrey Bogart: Snowden will always have that bastion of paradise, North Korea. But first he has to get there.
At last report Snowden was stuck at the Novotel hotel on the grounds of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport. Passengers arriving at Sheremetyevo with visa problems, or with a voided U.S. passport as was the case with Snowden, are consigned to the Novotel until the paperwork gets cleared up or they die from bureaucratic inertia. The Bates Motel, even with its problematic shower accommodations, is a five-star resort experience compared to the Novotel where, according to the Associated Press, a bottle of red wine can run a “guest” $165 and miniature shot of Hennessy cognac can set one back $80.
It’s a toss-up whether Snowden runs out of money before he runs out of friends.
Perhaps Snowden thought he had a pal in Russian President Vladimir Putin, or a compadre in Ecuadorian strongman Rafael Correa. But both men have begun to regard the world’s most famous leaker since Judas as the obnoxious brother-in-law who unexpectedly shows up for Thanksgiving and drinks all the liquor.
Putin has insisted he is powerless to help Snowden leave the airport since it isn’t really considered Russian soil. This from a head of state and former KGB operative, who as president is widely believed to have ordered the assassinations of expatriate dissidents living in foreign countries. Too bad these victims didn’t seek sanctuary at the Sheremetyevo airport where they would have been protected.
It’s entirely possible Snowden isn’t at the airport but is being hosted by the Russian Federal Security Service. Perhaps the Russians could learn more about the contents of the fugitive’s laptops, which might contain evidence the United States snooped on everyone from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the Campfire Girls.
At first Correa seemed more than happy to welcome Snowden. Then it was suggested that since Ecuador received $144 million in U.S. aid, not to mention exporting $9.5 billion in goods to the United States, he might want to think twice about harboring Snowden. A government official huffed his country “does not accept threats from anybody, and does not trade in principles, or submit to mercantile interests, as important as they may be.”
But that was before Vice President Joe Biden put a call into Correa. Nobody is saying much about what was discussed, but it is possible Biden casually observed: “You know Rafael, that’s an awfully nice trade agreement you have there. It would be a shame if anything happened to it.”
Because it was right about then that the principled Correa noted as much as he would love to help Snowden, he, too, is powerless since Ecuador can’t issue a visa unless the man on the run can make it to an Ecuadorian embassy. And since Snowden can’t leave Sheremetyevo without his passport, because the airport is the make-believe sovereign soil of Balderdashabad, poor Putin also is powerless to intervene.
You don’t need to be John le Carre to figure out while Snowden may have pulled off a massive theft of secret stuff, the United States still has the juice to make his current situation a living hell with lousy room service.
It’s possible Snowden will conclude he would rather share a cell with the Unabomber at the federal supermax prison in Colorado than spend another day panhandling rubles for a bar of soap.
Then, as if by magic, all the appropriate passports and visas for a trip back to the United States suddenly will materialize.
And that will be the end of “From Russia, With a Warrant.”