How to Make It as an Asylum Seeker

Five rules for NSA leaker Edward Snowden to make sure that life on the run goes as smoothly as possible.

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. 

4. Make money. Staying on the lam is always more expensive than one might anticipate, especially when a mammoth entity like the United States of America is doing all it can to shut down your potential sources of income. The root cause of the Black Panthers' demise in Algeria was poverty -- the United States froze Cleavers royalties from Soul on Ice in accordance with the Trading with the Enemy Act, thereby forcing him to look to hijackers for a cash influx. (Washington claimed that Cleaver had forfeited his American citizenship by visiting North Vietnam and North Korea in 1970.) Snowden will have plenty of expenses while in Ecuador, both legal and personal, and the Correa regime probably won't want to pick up the tab for all eternity. Crowdsourced donations sound like a fine way to keep things going, but the WikiLeaks experience is not encouraging; last year, the organization attracted just $68,000 in handouts, barely enough to keep its servers running. Sure, Snowden could always settle for a run-of-the-mill IT job with some Quito firm to make ends meet. But who can honestly see that happening?

But there are always ways to route money to those in need. Snowden's wealthiest and most avid supporters should start thinking now about ways they can slip cash into his pockets without attracting the ire of the American government. Bitcoins could sure come in handy here.

5. Do something fulfilling. Boredom and loneliness can be vexing foes, particularly for an intelligent 29-year-old keen to leave his mark on history. Plenty of the folks who hijacked planes to Cuba in the late 1960s and early 1970s can attest to this dilemma: many of the ones who settled down into normal lives in Havana, sometimes complete with spouses and children, eventually decided to return to the United States often because they had tired of their drab proletarian existences.  Can you really picture Snowden being content with a nine-to-five gig in Ecuador? He obviously has a grander future in mind for himself.

Perhaps Snowden should follow the lead of a few notorious American fugitives who found some measure of contentment by transforming themselves into do-gooders. An excellent example of this path are Melvin and Jean McNair, a couple who helped hijack Delta Airlines Flight 841 to Algiers in July 1972; they now operate an orphanage in Caen, France. And the Black Panther Pete O'Neal, another veteran of Algiers who fled a federal gun charge, wound up running a shelter for homeless children in Tanzania.

So what selfless occupation could Snowden take up in order to create meaning in his life? How about teaching free programming classes in a barrio periférico.

The Guardian via Getty Images


Russian Roulette

Obama's plan for nuclear reductions is letting Moscow get away with murder.

When Winston Churchill became prime minister at Britain's point of greatest peril, one commentator observed, "the hour has arrived, and the man is here." The danger to freedom in 1940 emanated from Berlin, site of the iconic Brandenburg Gate. When President John F. Kennedy came to a Berlin divided by the Cold War in 1963 to proclaim America's continuing defense of freedom against Soviet threats, his venue was universally understood. And when President Ronald Reagan came to the Brandenburg Gate in 1987 to say, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," no one missed the symbolism.

For both Kennedy and Reagan, one could easily say that their hour had also arrived, and that they were prepared for the challenges they faced protecting the Free World. But President Barack Obama's June 19 speech at the Brandenburg Gate was not in the same league. Obama's use of the phrase "peace with justice" was clearly intended as a contrast to Reagan's "peace through strength" doctrine, but it simply highlights the president's inadequacies. Reagan (and Kennedy, who coined "peace with justice") stood squarely against Moscow, refused to be intimidated, and demanded that the Soviets reverse their aggressive policies.

Reagan repeatedly insisted that bilateral arms-control agreements must actually enhance U.S. national security and contain effective verification mechanisms, and he refused to tolerate Russian violations. By contrast, Obama argued last week for further reductions of deployed U.S. nuclear weapons of up to one-third below the ill-advised New START agreement's already dangerously low levels. The Senate should have rejected New START, and it seems highly unlikely that senators already disillusioned by Obama's failure to honor his commitments to maintain the reliability and security of the nuclear stockpile will fall once again for glib promises.

Obama's motivation for further substantial reductions is the ideological belief that lower levels of U.S. nuclear weapons will make a safer world. His philosophy is thus the polar opposite of Reagan's -- one more appropriately labeled "peace through weakness," a doctrine Churchill emphatically rejected in his time.

But beyond the policy arguments and historical evidence already under intense debate, Obama's decision to seek further reductions flatly ignores reported Russian violations of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The INF prohibits both the United States and Russia (but only these two powers) from developing, testing, or possessing ballistic or cruise missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (intermediate range ballistic missiles, or IRBM's). Russia may well be taking steps to mask its INF violations, pretending, for example, that all their new missiles are longer-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM's), which are not prohibited under any existing agreement. It may sound bizarre that shorter-range missiles are banned while longer-range missiles are not, but that is symptomatic of the upside-down world of arms control.

Last week, the House of Representatives passed the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, which included a provision based on classified and unclassified information concerning significant Russian arms-control violations. The House bill urged Obama to demand Moscow stop its violations, and sought the president's commitment against further reductions in the U.S. nuclear deterrent until "this Russian behavior is corrected." Responding to Obama's speech, House Armed Service Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) said: "The President's desire to negotiate a new round of arms control with the Russians, while Russia is cheating on a major existing nuclear arms control treaty, strains credulity." Instead, Obama threatened to veto the authorization bill if it contained the language about Russian treaty violations.

While neither Congress nor the administration have publicly identified Moscow's violations, Russian statements and press reports give strong indications of two of them. First, Russia is developing and testing, and may be ready to deploy, the R-500 cruise missile, which appears to violate the INF Treaty. Based on Russian official and unofficial statements going back to 2007, the R-500 cruise missile falls within the INF's prohibited range.

Second, on June 6, Moscow announced another flight test of the new "Rubezh" ICBM from a mobile launcher, the fourth since testing began in Sept. 2011. All these successful flight tests were within the INF-prohibited range, thereby expanding Russia's ability to threaten Europe, even with missile defenses, which is precisely what INF was intended to prevent.

The Obama administration's failures to report these likely violations form a pattern of willful blindness. Further evidence of Russia's dangerous intentions lies in its rejection of basic elements of the 20-year-old Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program (often known as "Nunn-Lugar" after its authors). CTR provided billions of dollars of U.S. assistance for eliminating Soviet-era missile, nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs. Under the program's new umbrella agreement, effective this month, Russia clearly rejected the central element of transparency that allowed U.S. access to its weapons sites. When Moscow needed aid to destroy weapons it no longer wanted, it accepted transparency. Now Moscow stills wants the aid, but transparency is out, which tells us all we need to know.

Russia's apparent INF violations as well as continuing violations of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, among others, demonstrate its disregard for treaty commitments. Even today, well after the Cold War, Russia still repeatedly threatens to use nuclear weapons to defeat U.S. and European missile defenses and to develop and deploy new systems to do so. Yet despite Russia's circumvention and violation of existing treaties -- and efforts at intimidation -- President Obama sees no stumbling blocks to new agreements, or even unilateral U.S. reductions. Moreover, the White House responds to Russian programs and threats to overwhelm our missile-defense systems in a nuclear attack with offers to share classified technical data about these systems that would enhance Russia's ability to defeat them.

While Russia's belligerent nuclear rhetoric and policies are outrageous, it is even worse that the Obama administration is blissfully determined to further weaken our own nuclear deterrent and missile defenses in an effort to placate Moscow. There needs to be a reckoning about the pervasive history of material Russian violations of major arms-control agreements. And the time for that reckoning is well before any serious negotiations begin on any new agreement, and certainly well before congressional consideration of the implications of any agreement that might result.