Tuesday, 25 June 2013

For Snowden, a Hasty Exit Started With Pizza Inside a Hong Kong Hideout

For Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who has acknowledged leaking numerous documents about American surveillance operations around the world, the path to a sudden departure from Hong Kong late Sunday morning began over a dinner last Tuesday of a large pizza, fried chicken and sausages, washed down with Pepsi.

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Guanyu 道 said...

For Snowden, a Hasty Exit Started With Pizza Inside a Hong Kong Hideout

By KEITH BRADSHER
24 June 2013

For Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who has acknowledged leaking numerous documents about American surveillance operations around the world, the path to a sudden departure from Hong Kong late Sunday morning began over a dinner last Tuesday of a large pizza, fried chicken and sausages, washed down with Pepsi.

Albert Ho, one of Mr. Snowden’s lawyers, said that before the dinner began, Mr. Snowden insisted that everyone hide their cellphones in the refrigerator of the home where he was staying, to block any eavesdropping. Then began a two-hour conversation during which Mr. Snowden was deeply dismayed to learn that he could spend years in prison without access to a computer during litigation over whether he would be granted asylum here or surrendered to the United States, Mr. Ho said.

Staying cooped up in the cramped Hong Kong home of a local supporter was not bothersome to Mr. Snowden, but the prospect of losing his computer scared him.

“He didn’t go out, he spent all his time inside a tiny space, but he said it was O.K. because he had his computer,” Mr. Ho said. “If you were to deprive him of his computer, that would be totally intolerable.”

The outcome of that meeting, Mr. Ho said, was a decision by Mr. Snowden by Friday morning to have Mr. Ho pose two questions to the Hong Kong government: would he be released on bail if he were detained in Hong Kong at the request of the United States, and would the Hong Kong government interfere if Mr. Snowden tried to go to the airport and leave Hong Kong instead.

A person with a detailed knowledge of the Hong Kong government’s deliberations said that the government had been delighted to receive the questions. Leung Chun-ying, the chief executive, and his top advisers had been struggling through numerous meetings for days, canceling or postponing most other meetings, while trying to decide what to do in response to an American request for Mr. Snowden’s detention, even as public opinion in Hong Kong seemed to favor protecting the fugitive.

But Mr. Snowden’s choice of Mr. Ho to represent him raised a problem, said the person knowledgeable about the government’s deliberations, who insisted on anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivities in the case. Mr. Ho, a member of the territory’s legislature for nearly 20 years, is a former chairman of the Democratic Party and a longtime campaigner for full democracy here, to the irritation of government leaders of the territory, which was returned by Britain to China in 1997.

“The Hong Kong government doesn’t trust him,” the person said, adding that the Hong Kong government also did not want to be involved in any direct negotiations with Mr. Snowden. So the government found an intermediary, someone with longstanding connections to the local government but not in office, to bypass Mr. Ho and contact Mr. Snowden through someone in the Hong Kong community who was helping Mr. Snowden.

The intermediary told Mr. Snowden Friday night that the government could not predict what Hong Kong’s independent judiciary would do, but that serving jail time while awaiting trial was a possibility. The intermediary also said that the Hong Kong government would welcome Mr. Snowden’s departure, Mr. Ho and the person who insisted on anonymity said. Both declined to identify the intermediary.

The Hong Kong government said that it would not interfere with Mr. Snowden’s departure and even provided unobtrusive police protection for him as he went through the airport, both of them said.

But, Mr. Ho said, Mr. Snowden went through the same security and immigration channels as most passengers at the airport, rather than a special channel usually used for people involved in highly political cases — a sign that the Hong Kong government wanted to minimize its involvement in Mr. Snowden’s departure.

Guanyu 道 said...

At the same time, the Hong Kong government’s encouragement for Mr. Snowden to leave, instead of a suggestion that he stay and fight any return to the United States, had persuaded him that staying was risky because the Hong Kong government might not be on his side. “He would not like to fight with the Hong Kong government, with the Chinese government and the U.S. government” against him, Mr. Ho said.

Mr. Ho said that the disclosure late Friday evening of a sealed indictment against Mr. Snowden in the United States had prompted his client to become considerably more anxious about staying in Hong Kong, and the prospect of spending years in courtrooms or possibly jail as well. “He wanted a simple life,” Mr. Ho said.

Mr. Ho said that if the Hong Kong government had not assured Mr. Snowden of safe passage to the airport and exit from the territory, his client intended to seek the advice of Stephen Young, the United States consul general here, whom Mr. Ho knows socially. But there was no clear plan on what to seek from Mr. Young, and the Hong Kong government’s assurance of safe passage meant that this plan was never discussed in depth, Mr. Ho added.

Obama administration officials expressed profound annoyance on Sunday that Hong Kong let Mr. Snowden get away. But the person knowledgeable about the Hong Kong government’s deliberations said that there was considerable annoyance in Hong Kong about Washington’s handling of the case.

Mr. Ho said that Mr. Snowden has not been working for any government other than his previous service for the United States. “He believed he was doing the right thing, serving the people,” Mr. Ho said, later adding that, “Certainly he is not a spy for anybody – Russia, China.”

The Hong Kong government stalled for time by telling the United States on Friday that it wanted more information to support the American request for Mr. Snowden’s detention. Obama administration officials complained on Sunday that they were still working to provide Hong Kong with the information when Mr. Snowden was allowed to leave.

But the person familiar with Hong Kong’s deliberations pointed out that when Hong Kong made its request on Friday, it was still Thursday night in Washington. So the United States could in theory have sent more information by Saturday morning in Hong Kong, which would have required further review by the Hong Kong government. But the information was not immediately sent by the United States, the person said.

The Hong Kong and Chinese governments consulted very closely throughout Mr. Snowden’s stay. But Beijing allowed Hong Kong officials to make their own decisions and then vetted them, instead of dictating decisions to Hong Kong, the person with knowledge of the deliberations said, adding that one of these decisions had been to let Mr. Snowden leave, said the person familiar with the government’s deliberations.

Mr. Snowden, who has just turned 30, comes across as intelligent, analytical and quick-witted, Mr. Ho said. But he also came to Hong Kong from Honolulu without a well thought-out plan, while overestimating how free he would be to move around Hong Kong after his disclosures and underestimating the public attention he would receive, Mr. Ho added.

“He’s a kid, I really think he’s a kid, I think he never anticipated this would be such a big matter in Hong Kong,” Mr. Ho said, adding that, “He enjoys Pepsi, he prefers Pepsi to wine, that’s why I say he’s a kid.”