The story of how Edward Snowden escaped

The fugitive got out of Hong Kong by hiding in the one place the government would never think to look.

Meryl D'Souza September 15, 2016

You may have heard of Edward Snowden, the former Central Intelligence Agency employee was one of the most wanted men on the planet in 2013 for leaking classified information to the media. The information he leaked proved that the United States government – through the National Security Agency and the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance – was cyber spying on its own citizens and governments around the world.

You may sit in your armchair, sip on your wine and go on a rant about how he betrayed his country but don’t forget that his whistleblowing antics made us aware of how technology, along with taking over our lives, is giving strangers access to our homes as well.

That’s one of the main reasons why the richest millennial in the world, Mark Zuckerberg, chooses to cover his laptop and computer camera and disable its microphone. Bear in mind that this man created the social media channel called Facebook – a website who’s sole purpose is to let you share your personal life for others to see.

You may think that it’s fine for people like Zuckerberg to do things like that. It’s not like you have the serum to world peace in your room but look at the case of the woman targeted by ‘sextortionist’ Luis Mijangos: The hacker turned the woman’s laptop into bugging device which he used to spy on her.

Snowden had probably seen things like that go down during his time as a technician in the Geneva station of the CIA. It must have had an effect on his conscience, which is why he reached out to The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald and journalist and Oscar-winning documentary maker, Laura Poitras, in January 2013. He then used encrypted mail and started communicating with both journalists before commencing work on their operation in February or April 2013.

In May 2013, Snowden applied for leave from his position at the NSA in Hawaii citing treatment for his epilepsy. With his leave granted, Snowden flew to Hong Kong and stayed at a luxury hotel called Mira in Kowloon until the first article based on the documents he leaked hit the internet on June 10, 2013.

Knowing the repercussions of being the man responsible for the largest security breach in the history of the United States, Snowden reached out to his lawyer, Robert Tibbo, whose first move was to ensure that Snowden applied for refugee status at a United Nations sub-office to avoid extradition to the U.S.

The night of June 10, Snowden’s lawyers (Tibbo and Jonathan Man) with the help of Ajith, a 44-year-old Sri Lankan refugee seeking asylum in Hong Kong, transported the whistleblower to a safe house in the Lai Chi Kok area of Kowloon.

The 14-square-metre and two-and-a-half-room apartment was occupied by Supun, his partner Nadeeka and daughter Suwasistiki; all asylum seekers themselves. Tibbo and Man knew they could trust them because both lawyers had helped them on their immigration cases.

The next morning, Snowden asked Supun to buy the South China Morning Post, an English-language newspaper. It was only after the flat owners saw the front page that they identified their guest.

With his identity no longer a secret, Snowden instructed Supun to bring him certain software to help him communicate through encrypted messages. During his stay at Supun’s home, Snowden’s lawyers limited their appearances to not raise any eyebrows but sent interns with cakes and USBs filled with information.

A week later, police officials began patrolling the neighbourhood. Although it was never confirmed they were looking for Snowden, the Californian’s lawyers decided it was time to shift base. Again, in the middle of the night, Snowden was moved. This time to Hong Kong poorest district called Sham Shui Po.

There he moved in with another of Tibbo’s refugee clients called Vanessa who shared the one-bedroom apartment with her mother and daughter. Again, everything about the move was shrouded in mystery. Vanessa was told to keep a strange man in her house, and she obliged.

It wasn’t until the next morning, much like in the case of Supun, that Vanessa found out who the man in her apartment was. Again, she only found out because Snowden asked for the newspaper. Snowden stayed there for only four days before being shuttled off to yet another safe house.

His third homestay was a windowless, one-room apartment that belonged to Ajith – the man who helped him move the night it all began. He stayed with Ajith for just the solitary night of June 21 – his 30th birthday and the day he was charged with three felonies the 1917 U.S. Espionage Act.

After spending 12 days underground in Hong Kong, Snowden was taken to Tibbo’s home where they decided it was best for him to flee. Snowden suggested reaching out to Julian Assange and the Wikileaks network.

Soon, Sarah Harrison, a British Wikileaks staffer, made the trip to Hong Kong and booked tickets to more than a dozen destinations in a bid to throw off officials. The escape, it would seem, was meticulously planned. On June 23, Snowden and Harrison arrived at the Hong Kong International Airport where they posed as a couple on vacation. As soon as his flight left Chinese airspace, the Hong Kong government announced Snowden had left the country.

By the time the Aeroflot flight to Moscow landed, the United States had revoked Snowden’s passport. This meant the then 30-year old couldn’t take any other flights. For a month Snowden and Harrison were stranded at the Sheremetyevo airport before the Russian government granted him temporary asylum.

Today, director Oliver Stone’s movie Snowden, with actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing the high-school dropout and former CIA employee, releases in the UAE. The movie is bound to once again throw the spotlight on the NSA’s dealings. And while you may want to get engulfed in that whole episode, try to grasp the biggest plus from this story:

“They had a hundred chances to betray me while I was amongst them, and no one could have blamed them, given their precarious situations. But they never did,' Snowden told the National Post. “If not for their compassion, my story could have ended differently. They taught me no matter who you are, no matter what you have, sometimes a little courage can change the course of history.”

Via National Post.