Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
Julian Assange: Edward Snowden is ‘marooned in Russia’ (washingtonpost.com)
137 points by Libertatea 1606 days ago | hide | past | web | 97 comments | favorite

So, the moral of this story, as I see it, is something like:

Start the process of creating a false identity (or two or three or ten) right now, if you think you may ever be in a position to need to flee across international borders. Obtain multiple sets of credentials, including passports and related documents.

I know this isn't an easy process, but it's at least theoretically possible. Neil Strauss gets into it a bit in his book Emergency[1], and there are dozens of other books[2][3][4][5][6] out there on how to obtain a new identity, forge documents, etc.. And if it takes a little "black hat" hacker action as well... well, so be it.

[1]: http://www.amazon.com/Emergency-This-Book-Will-Save/dp/00608...

[2]: http://www.amazon.com/Secrets-Back-Alley-Man-Construction/dp...

[3]: http://www.amazon.com/Acquiring-New-ID-Easily-Technology/dp/...

[4]: http://www.amazon.com/Modern-Identity-Changer-Privacy-Person...

[5]: http://www.amazon.com/The-I-D-Master-Identity-Change-Profess...

[6]: http://www.amazon.com/Make-Drivers-Licenses-Other-Computer/d...

Former ID thief here. Those books are all outdated or garbage. There are three ways of changing your ID: your parents creating a second ID when you were born, stealing someone else's, or bribes. If you already had the first you wouldn't be looking at these books.

Bribes are unlikely to succeed and will probably get you arrested. Even if they do work the person you bribed knows about your new ID. If they get arrested you'll also be caught.

That leaves stealing someone else's ID. It's not that hard but can be time consuming and of course it's illegal with a mandatory minimum federal sentence in the US. You'll need to know how to forge various documents, among other skills I won't go into. Most documents are easy to forge including many state IDs. If you don't need to travel out of the country it's totally doable. Getting a passport is much harder since you'll need to get the real thing. There are ways to do it but you'd have to be pretty serious and the risks are fairly high.

> Former ID thief here.

Hilarious. Former victim of ID theft here.

Most of those books are useless now. They were all written pre-2001. And I would wager all the loopholes used have been patched up. I'd be interested to see what Neil Strauss does, I didn't realize he had a book out.


It used to be very easy to get copies of birth certificates and things (with almost no proof you're the person it's for), but at least in the UK, they tightened this up in around 2004.

Most of those books are useless now. They were all written pre-2001. And I would wager all the loopholes used have been patched up.

It would be interesting to see. But even if all of the old loopholes have been patched up, I'd wager that new ones have emerged at the same time. It's just a question of finding them.

A more straightforward option may have been to outright get citizenship in another country. If he was making $200k/year, then in a few years he probably would have had enough funds to indirectly "buy" citizenship in another country (it's no secret that wealth expedites the naturalization process without even needing to make bribes).

If here were willing to wait 5 years to see if the Obama administration would make things better, he probably could have afforded to wait another few years. (Though one mitigating factor is the time limit after obtaining the documents and getting found out)

That would have killed his security clearance.

He was making $125,000 per year, and $200,000 was the most that he made earlier in his career.

Here's the math. $150,000 average - $44,000 for income taxes. Subtract another minimum of $3k to $4k per month for living expenses, given he was in Hawaii.

Snowden likely couldn't have saved more than $35k to $50k per year.

It would have taken him a decade or more to save the kind of funds required to both buy citizenship and live on it.

Dominica citizenship goes for $100k (1).

Cost of living in Dominica (2) is between 40-60% cheaper than in Honolulu. Working as a telecommuting freelancer I think he would be fine.

1: http://www.isla-offshore.com/services/citizenship-dominica/

2: http://www.numbeo.com/

Is Dominica a safe haven from CIA rendition though?

Just going from your own numbers, he could have saved about 70k a year, if he was motivated. Right? (150 - 44 - 3.5 * 12)

That said, yeah, probably not enough to retire on.


Dominica "sells" citizenship for $100k, and St. Kitts & Nevis wants a $250k donation, or a $400k real estate investment. A similar program with the same amounts exist for Antigua & Barbuda.


Actually not. In the US it's about $750,000 to get a green card and citizenship is just a matter of time after that.

I'm sure there are other places that are a lot cheaper.

It doesn't work when your pictures are on the front page news.

Maybe, maybe not. Not everybody pays attention to the news... and it's not that hard to make yourself look different enough to evade the average Joe... like the guy/gal at the airport, earning minimum wage working as a ticket counter clerk, or TSA agent (or other national equivalent). Even the border police types can't examine everybody under a microscope. If you're a guy, grow a beard (or shave yours), dye your hair a different color, put on glasses (or take off yours), and you probably stand a decent chance of escaping notice.

Of course, this all requires some foresight, as you'd have to have ID documents done with the "disguised" appearance... but that's half my point - now is the time to start working on getting alternate identities, if you think there's even a slight chance you might need it.

This is true, a lot relies on people noticing and people tend to not pay attention. The last time I was at the airport, the couple in front of me split to two different security lines. They had mixed up their ID's and funny enough one agent noticed while the other let the lady through.

forging papers is the easy part. the hard part is knowing which borders you can safely cross and how to do it without setting alarm bells.

all of that doesn't concern snowden since he's on the run with a celeb status.

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biometric_passport really? You'd have to find a country not using biometric passports, and a country allowing entrance with non-biometric passports to begin with. Then add photo and forging the actual paper.

I wouldn't call that easy.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ambassador_%282011_film%29 this Danish guy obtained a diplomatic Liberian passport and went to Central Africa to deal diamonds, and was interviewed even by the head of intelligence there. I won't spoil what failed on his journeys, but obtaining papers while a bit hard, wasn't impossible.

> a country allowing entrance with non-biometric passports

haven't heard of it tbh. a passport has to be valid. since Polish passports have 10 year validity, you can travel today with an old passport from late 2003. now I checked Canada demands a visa from Poles who have an old passport, not sure about, uhm, the vast whole rest of the world.

forging docs is 'the easy part', not 'easy' per se. what's challenging is crossing borders if you're on the run - you need some expertise about their security habits and diplomatic relations. if you got into criminal shit and Interpol is after you, you're screwed anyway, if they can track down top level mobsters hiding in a foreign village, they will track down an amateur.

As I understand it, Edward Snowdon revealed his identity intentionally as part of his action.

He did his actions with the view that being public and making this public was more important than the dire consequences that were very plausible.

And naturally, creating a false identity is much harder for someone who's had access to this information. They track people like that - constantly - it's not even the same as ordinary surveillance since anyone entering this world agrees to it.

Ah so the NSA has another NSA monitoring it...and then I guess it's turtles all the way down.

>They track people like that - constantly - it's not even the same as ordinary surveillance since anyone entering this world agrees to it.

Yeah, no one would ever be able to walk out with hard drive(s) full of data and then fly to hong kong and russia and leak it with that much nsa surveillance. Oops.

Thanks; I bought those books.

And probably just added yourself to all sorts of watchlists.

It's like the guest list for a private party :)

So for the second time in a row Ecuador is not actually serious about granting asylum. They are happy to pay lip service, but when it comes to action, they are not so willing.

What do you want them to do? Bomb the Russians?

You seem to have missed this key passage in the linked article, which makes it pretty clear Ecuador is backing away. They could issue another "letter of safe passage," but won't and are saying he should face U.S. authorities. The whole passport thing seems to be a fig leaf:

"An official at the Ecuadoran Embassy in London... had also issued a letter of safe passage for Snowden. But Snowden apparently did not use it for his trip to Moscow. And it doesn’t appear that the Ecuadoran government would make a similar gesture again.

"On Sunday, Correa told the AP that an Ecuadoran official at that embassy had committed 'a serious error' by issuing the first letter without consulting officials back home. Correa said the consul would be punished, although he didn’t specify how.

"Correa’s tone seemed to have shifted after a conversation with Vice President Biden on Friday. Where Correa had earlier been defiant, he now voiced respect for U.S. legal procedures.

“'If he really could have broken North American laws, I am very respectful of other countries and their laws, and I believe that someone who breaks the law must assume his responsibilities,' Correa said, according to the AP."

Let him fly without a passport.

It's not that simple. The airline has to agree to let him fly without a passport, and assurances from Ecuador that he'll be allowed to enter might not be enough to convince them to to that. Also, there probably aren't any direct flights from Moscow to Quito, so he'll need cooperation from some other country, and possibly another airline as well. That's conceivable, but might not work out, and Snowden probably wouldn't know that it's not working out until he was in handcuffs.

Ecuador has several national airlines, in particular TAME. They could charter a flight with them if they actually wanted to.

Which they don't.

They could also ask a diplomat to escort him.

A charter flight from Russia to Ecuador costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and approaches the distance limits of private jets. I doubt they even do this for themselves.

Huge difference between allowing someone entry to your country and the government paying to fly a jetliner across the world for one person.

what, you don't think that Ecuador is capable of chartering a private plane to fly from Moscow to Quito?


They don't.

Like I said: Lip service. They like to talk, but when it comes to action nothing happens.

This is the first mistake Edward Snowden has done, although leaving HK could have been one, but going through Russia... Especially without passport, that's like a gift.

I foresee a very bad future for this man, and this is infuriating.

(speculation follows.. feel free to ignore) I wonder if Snowden was aware his passport was canceled when he left HK. HK says they did not receive the cancellation in time to prevent him from boarding the plane to Russia. So it's entirely possible he left HK thinking he had a valid passport and would be able to leave Russia... only learning otherwise once he arrived there.

Much more likely is that wikileaks assured him "Don't worry, it'll be fine." Wikileaks is much more concerned with getting lots of publicity than with actually getting him someplace safe (otherwise why would they tell everyone in advance what they are going to do).

He had to know that canceling his passport would be the very first thing the US would do.

You do have to wonder what "plan" snowden had... he was identified publicly on June 9th, but didn't leave HK until the June 23rd using the incredibly creative idea of leaving on a plane using his real passport/ID. Makes me think there was no plan at all -- he was just planning to stay in HK originally...


My take is that he panicked. He knows he's researched, and might be killed, and he reads what's going on on internet, and he just starts to freak out. He has to start freaking out. In the end he's just convinced he's going to lose if he stays in HK, he cannot stand that anymore and decide to cancel his "plan" and leave HK.

That's unfair. Wikileaks got involved because they wanted to help. Things haven't worked out as planned.

HN readers are so fickle. The biggest wafflers on the internet. You will find no loyalty here.

I'm not fickle - I started having doubts on December 24, 2009 when they shut down the website to beg for money. I started wondering if their goal was money for the founder or leaking things.

My doubts grew larger on September 25, 2010 when Daniel Domscheit-Berg aired his complaints.

And dislike was finalized on October 22, 2010 - not because of what they released, but because they shut down the archive.

It turned from WikiLeaks to AssangeLeaks after that. Instead of releasing anything, they released only what Assange wanted to release.

They have done nothing since to regain the name "wiki". Assange has made himself into the story.

You're making some pretty serious assumptions regarding WikiLeaks' intentions, and even if you're right, assuming whatever advice they offer is good is about more than their intentions, it's about a very difficult international situation that's not going to be simple even if you know the ins and outs of traveling without the US government chasing you.

Yeah, HN readers are fickle. Suggesting we/they should be "loyal" to anything, though, is ridiculous; loyalty is, depending on your point of view, either a way to trap suckers into shitty agreements or something you should only grant to people in whose intentions and abilities you have absolute confidence. I personally don't see either of those as good.

For those wondering about why a private/charter jet is not really feasible:


Not impossible, but highly unlikely.

Not to be the eternal skeptic, but has anyone seen any pictures of Snowden in the Hong Kong or Moscow airports?

Didn't Putin himself say he's there?

It's quite a stretch to think that the Russian government was blatantly lying about this. It would be a very strange move that gains them little or nothing.

I'm willing to entertain the theory that Snowden left Moscow in the past couple days, though. It is pretty strange that no one has seen him.

> Didn't Putin himself say he's there?

Trusting the word of any politician or world leader is a risky biz.

> It is pretty strange that no one has seen him.

The most talked about man in the world was hanging around two major international airports and no one got a picture.

Color me skeptical.

Trusting the word of a politician in one thing, trusting Putin is quite another. Calling Putin a politician is an insult to both politicians and dictators. And don't forget Putins past life, he is well versed in the spy versus spy game.

Another reason why going to Russia might not have been the best idea.

AFAIK -- no.

There are speculations that he may be outside of transit zone, in some hotel under guard(still without crossing border): http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142412788732387390457857...

This explains absence of photos.

One would think some enterprising journalist or someone with a cellphone would have seen him and gotten a pic.We see pictures of everyone and everything except for Edward Snowden in airports or on planes.

Here's an enterprising journalist!

"Surreal 21 hour adventure of reporter who deliberately got sequestered at Moscow airport in the hope of finding Edward Snowden"


SO the airlines will not sell him a ticket, couldn't a wealthy individual fly him out on a private jet in theory?

The host country has the accept his arrival. After this wealthy individual bribed the FSB to let go of Snowden.

I think Tom Morello offered to do just that...

I assume the Russians want him to apply for asylum there? What I can't figure out: Why wouldn't the US prefer to have him in Ecuador rather than Russia (ie, by canceling his passport)? because it would be a helluva lot easier to apply pressure to Correa than Putin.

His passport was cancelled before he left Hong Kong and arrived in Russia. Hong Kong said they didn't receive the update or something. I imagine they were happy to just have him out of their country.

Because Russia is easier to be manipulated. Their oligarchs have accounts in US (or in US influenced countries) or US could force sanctions upon Russia (without much fuss).

Putin is in a pickle - he doesn't want to appear weak before the US in eyes of his people, but he doesn't want to piss off US because above mentioned things.

Since he has been there for about a week now, it seems incredibly unlikely that the Russian government hasn't been able to get their hands on all the classified material and laptops he took with him. Flying to Russia without a good plan for step two was an epic mistake.

it seems incredibly unlikely that the Russian government hasn't been able to get their hands on all the classified material and laptops he took with him

Most likely they built a special-purpose $5 machine to decrypt all his information. And that's why we haven't seen any photos of him since he left HK.

It looks like a foolish mistake to have left China at all instead of applying for asylum there. China would be a good place for someone like Snowden to hide out from US authorities and live a good, full life. Ecuador and Russia are both very likely to exploit him themselves or turn him over to the US when the next administration comes in.

But maybe he has something up his sleeve. I would not be surprised to hear that he's not in Moscow at all.

I think Snowden and/or Wikileaks would have thought of that before leaving HK. If the Russians have anything, it's encrypted blobs.

>If the Russians have anything, it's encrypted blobs.

i'd be really surprised if Snowden hadn't been made an offer by Russia he'd have hard time to refuse - give the info to Russia or you're on the next non-stop flight to New York. Dealing with Russian government ... after not liking to deal with US ... somewhat illogical.

So it all went to hell once Wikileaks got involved.

Yah. I was very surprised when I heard he listened to them. He had a great plan, and should have stuck with it.

Wikileaks is using him for their own goals, which appear to be to snub the united states. (Their stated goals, and their actual goals do not match.)

And they have a rather poor track record at actually getting asylum. They are too public with the process. Instead of just doing it they like to talk about first, to make sure everyone knows just how much they are snubbing the US in the process.

> He had a great plan, and should have stuck with it.

Yes, everything is simple and easy from where you sit.

> Wikileaks is using him for their own goals, which appear to be to snub the united states.

Snowden asked WL for help, and they came to his aid. It may not work out, since their enemy is the most powerful government on earth. I hope you can forgive them if it doesn't go perfectly.

This is the most credible effort toward confronting the most crucial issues that has ever happened in my life. The ship is leaving, and you're making noise about how you don't like its paint job. I feel sorry for you that you have such a bad case of bikeshedding disease.

> Wikileaks is using him for their own goals

Sadly, it appears Wikileak's own goal is to feed the ego of Assange. They do valuable work, they just need a leader who doesn't want to be a cult leader.

Again with this junk. He hardly mentions himself. He's relentless on the most crucial issues of humanity.

Nobody's done more for the world lately, but you use your psychic powers to find some supposed flaw. It's like hating the ambulance that came to save your life because it needs to be washed (and it doesn't even really need to be washed). Bikeshed on some other issue! Anything!

Looks like somebody wants to drink the kool-aid. Boy, HN has some seriously angry, condescending a-holes.

Also, bikeshedding? Assange is causing problems that is not helping the Wikileaks cause. He's becoming an ineffective leader: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/28/edward-snowden-e...

You said that Wikileaks was all about stroking Assange's ego. I called you on that. I'm sorry if I came off badly, but I keep seeing this idea and I never see it substantiated with anything. He's an attention whore because he tirelessly works his causes? Is Chomsky? I'm not so much angry at you as exasperated at what I see as some kind of reflexive nitpicking of a guy who's doing a huge amount of good.

> He had a great plan, and should have stuck with it.

Wasn't Hong Kong prepared to give him up to the US?

I'd rather fight in HK for months/years, then be very publicly turned over to USG (so they can't just disappear to Gitmo), ideally close to election season, for a public trial, than be in the direct custody and control of Russia or China (or Iran or North Korea or a few other countries...).

He should not have taken Wikileaks advice and support; sticking to Hong Kong lawyers, EFF, and maybe other whistleblowers like Binney would have been a lot better for everyone (including US national security, which is helped by ending illegal spying and by not compromising legitimate (to the US) spying on foreign governments).

Wow! Of all the "suggestions" on what Snowden should do. This is the most coherent and reasonable on so far.

Throwing his lot in with China or Russia is a very risky move. The only thing they both have in common is a desire to embarrass the US. If Snowden becomes a liability for either of those countries, they will throw him under the bus in a heartbeat.

The best Snowden can hope for is to drag out the process long enough so attention dwindles (and possibly some positive changes occur). In five years one can hope that the US gov't is of the opinion that a strong prosecution is not in their best interest.

By most accounts, that process could have taken years. Hong Kong has an extraordinarily slow legal process, and there was an endless line of lawyers willing to take up his defense case.

At this point, if he's not very very lucky, he'll be back in the US against his own will in a matter of weeks or months.

Wikileaks is using him for their own goals, which appear to be to snub the united states.

Lately, the US has been very obviously attacking Wikileaks, but they've been around since long before the Collateral Murder videos, and they've pissed off China, Scientology, the Virgin Islands, and plenty others. The focus on the US was just the result of getting a vast amount of access in the form of Manning.

is there any way for germany to help him out? that seems, to me, his best chance at the moment. they have the political clout and they're pissed off...

germany being pissed off at america is like siblings being pissed off at one another. some critical articles in germany and a few harsh words from merkel and it'll blow over. they're not going to make it into a real issue by taking in snowden.

When governments[1] complain about spying, I imagine it is also often a case of crocodile tears, as I assume many of them also spy on foreign non-citizens with regularity.

[1]: Blanket statement about governments in developed countries. Not sure about Germany specifically.

I like to think it's just possible that some modern countries don't pull this stuff and are genuinely shocked at just how much espionage we UK and US folks indulge in.

This may be wishful thinking.

I would hope there are many that don't spy on their own citizens with such regularity, but I find myself being less optimistic about spying on non-citizens...

Exactly. Both our chancellor and our president are rabidly pro-US. Our Minister of Justice is probably the only person in the government that cares about this at all.

I doubt the Germans will side with the Russians in preference to the US. And the Russians are preventing Snowden from leaving because it suits their interests, as would some possible range of deals to turn him over to the US.

I'll add that if I were Snowden, I would probably avoid long-standing US allies like Germany - particularly those full of US military personnel.

Crazy idea: applying for asylum in Russia.

Whatever happened with Iceland? There was some noise about them offering help at one time... has that option gone completely off the table or what? Has there been some news on that, that I missed?

I don't think Iceland was ever really on the table. Other than an MP from a small party making noise, Iceland hasn't officially said anything supportive Snowden, at least that I've seen. The only official statement the Icelandic government has made is that a person must be in the country to apply for asylum, and until he's in the country there is nothing for them to comment on.

The old guard is back at the helm in iceland. The coalition that governed before their crash. The recent pledge to become a media and anti-corruption heaven is mostly shunned by them.

Did I miss anything? Why is Germany supposed to be pissed off? I think Obama only visited last week?

We wiretap the hell out of their citizens.

Yes, this little issue is why Germany will risk the US as an export market. Just to piss off Obama, because das Merkel is sad the constitutional court prevented her party from implementing very similar measures first.

Please be a little realistic. The ruling parties, with the exception of the Minister of Justice, have been so quiet, it's making the news. Mrs. Schnarrenberger (FDP) is not representative of her party, let alone the government.

Ah OK - somehow I didn't register that as "news" :-)

Edit: Why the downvotes? As a kid, 30 years ago, I would frequently pass by the Echelon antennas. I was told they were for spying on communication. So I thought it was a given for decades that the US (and others) are spying on German businesses. The technology might have changed, but not the facts.

Wikipedia on Echelon http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ECHELON

Let's assume Snowden is caught and is up for trial.

The article mentions that there is more confidential data to be released and it has been distributed to insure it's eventual release. Do you think WikiLeaks would threaten to release the information if Snowden is convicted of any crimes?

If this threat were to be made, I'd imagine the USA would convict him anyways and WikiLeaks releases all the information. And then all hell breaks loose. Or perhaps the USA negotiates with WikiLeaks & Snowden?

Also, where's Anonymous in all of this? You'd imagine they'd have their hands all over this, right?

Since we don't know all the details this is merely speculative, but I wonder if leaving Hong Kong was Assange's idea. In which case it seems he might just have royally screwed Snowden (albeit unintentionally).

Any bets on when/if the Russians trade Snowden for one of their own?

Rather than rant.

!Just search twitter for 'operation IGNORE Assange' which I have been running since he went in there!

Snowden is a symbol and a sign of the future.

If the US government gets their hands on Snowden, and gets their way, I am absolutely certain America will plunge into an even darker era of deception and thought control.

Even now, most Americans are too brainwashed to care.

Yes, everyone who disagrees with you is brainwashed. That's a real healthy attitude to take.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact