As he journeys west from Hong Kong toward asylum in Ecuador, Cuba, or possibly Venezuela, NSA leaker Edward Snowden should keep in mind that dodging American justice isn't just a matter of hopping a few flights through sympathetic countries. It's an extremely long game. Once the initial public-relations buzz wears off, regimes can tire of harboring high-profile fugitives who end up causing more trouble than they're worth. If Snowden wishes to reach a ripe old age in Quito or Guayaquil, he might want to take some cues about staying one step ahead of the law from the fugitives of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Here are five rules from that chaotic era, when terrorists, radicals, and slightly bonkers hijackers regularly hopped across borders in search of asylum.
1. Clearly define your political motive. Extradition treaties typically include exceptions for crimes of a "political character." In theory, these clauses are meant to protect political dissidents from being sent back home to face prosecution for acts such as organizing protests or penning anti-government tracts. But governments have wide latitude to define these crimes as they see fit: In 1974, for example, the French declined to arrest the four Basque assassins of Spanish prime minister Luis Carrero Blanco, stating that extradition would be an impossibility because the crime was "so obviously political."
Snowden didn't do anything that extreme, of course, but the U.S. government will obviously contend that his actions were more criminal than political and therefore worthy of extradition. In his interview with The Guardian earlier this month, Snowden did a good job of heading off that line of argument by emphasizing his dedication to the public interest. His proxies should now reiterate that sentiment as much as possible, so that no future Ecuadorian president is ever tempted to see things from the American point of view.
2. Stay quiet. Snowden has already discussed his motivation for leaking the details of the NSA spy programs, but from now on he should leave that campaign to his surrogates. History has shown that big-mouthed fugitives run the risk of rubbing their hosts the wrong way. The classic example from the Vietnam Era was Eldridge Cleaver, the minister of information of the Black Panther Party. On the run from an attempted-murder charge in California in 1968, Cleaver escaped to Cuba, where he was initially welcomed with open arms by Fidel Castro's regime. But Cleaver ruined things fairly quickly by speaking candidly to reporters, particularly about the harsh treatment being accorded several imprisoned American hijackers. The irate Cubans forced Cleaver to move to Algeria, where the Soul on Ice author eventually wore out his welcome by publicly calling for dictatorial president Houari Boumedienne to give him the $1 million brought over by a group of American hijackers. Boumedienne had Cleaver's headquarters raided in revenge.
Snowden doesn't appear to be quite the loose cannon that Cleaver was, but he should still be aware that his odds of accidentally upsetting his hosts greatly increase every time he opens his mouth on the record.
3. Find allies on the ground. Though his Algerian sojourn ended in disaster, Cleaver actually lasted over three years in the North African country -- a pretty impressive run, given his penchant for ruining things with his self-described "fat mouth." One of the keys to his success was the way he gained the support of other welcome guests in Algiers -- notably the North Korean diplomatic corps and representatives of the Vietcong, the latter of whom gave him a villa they owned in the tony El Biar neighborhood. These allies helped Cleaver liaise with the Algerian authorities. (Cleaver returned the favor to both: He broadcast virulently anti-American messages to American G.I.'s in Vietnam, urging them to frag their commanding officers, and he wrote the foreword to the English-language translation of Kim il-Sung's Juche.)
Snowden's libertarian politics don't dovetail naturally with the leftism espoused by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa (nor perhaps his government's assault on free speech), but he still should find some sympathetic souls on Quito's cocktail-party circuit. He'll need to tap those contacts in order to handle some very pragmatic issues, like figuring out a long-term housing situation and, more importantly, how to ensure his personal security in a nation with a high crime rate.