As Edward Snowden enters his 10th full day in legal limbo -- stowed away, at least according to Russian officials, in an international terminal in Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport -- his options for escaping are shrinking rapidly. As of July 2, he had fruitlessly applied to 21 countries for asylum, with some rebuffing him outright, others inviting him to apply in-country, and only Bolivia and Venezuela demonstrating a flicker of interest in inviting the NSA leaker to their shores (in fact, a plane bringing Bolivian President Evo Morales home from Russia was rerouted to Austria on Tuesday on the suspicion that it was carrying Snowden -- accusations Bolivian officials denied). With a canceled U.S. passport in hand, Snowden will have heaps of trouble getting a visa to travel to any country that might offer him sanctuary. And while he could make a run for an embassy in Moscow, he would have to first formally enter Russia, where President Vladimir Putin has pledged to not grant Snowden asylum unless he stops leaking U.S. intelligence (Snowden has since rescinded his request for shelter in Russia).
So if you're Edward Snowden, how do you possibly make your way to a safe haven without stepping on a commercial flight? Here are five daring moves Snowden could make.
Hop in a Diplomatic Pouch
There are two documented cases of hiding a person in a diplomatic pouch -- sealed parcels sent between governments and diplomatic missions that are not subject to search and seizure by customs officials -- and neither of them was successful. Mordechai Louk, who in 1962 began spying for Egypt after fleeing debts and military service in Israel, was abducted two years later by his Egyptian handlers, who suspected him of being a Mossad double agent. Louk was drugged during a meeting in Italy, packed into a crate labeled "Diplomatic bag -- do not open," and loaded onto a flight to Egypt -- that is, until a baggage handler heard him waking in the crate. Louk was extradited to Israel, where he was tried and imprisoned for 11 years. Twenty years later, Nigerian military leaders, having just risen to power in a coup, pursued the extrajudicial rendition of the previous government's transportation minister. Agents kidnapped the minister, Umaru Dikko, in London and placed him in a crate, along with a doctor to monitor his sedation. British customs officials had the packages opened after noticing a strong "medical smell" and claimed that the crates were improperly labeled as diplomatic pouches. (The liberated Dikko continued to live in Britain for the next decade.)
The laws governing diplomatic pouches are codified in Article 27 of the 1961 Vienna Convention, which states clearly: "The diplomatic bag shall not be opened or detained" (breaching that rule has precipitated crises in bilateral relations from time to time). But the bag is only to be used for "correspondence relating to the mission and its functions." The 40 kilograms of cocaine smuggled into Italy in Ecuadorean diplomatic pouches last year, for example, was not covered, nor was the rifle smuggled out of the Libyan embassy in London after the shooting of a British policewoman during protests against Muammar al-Qaddafi in 1984. (It's unclear if the Cuban cigars Winston Churchill received by diplomatic courier during World War II were covered, as they were delivered before the Vienna Convention was written.) The problem with putting Edward Snowden in a diplomatic pouch: He's not exactly "official correspondence." It's a no-go.
Assume the Role of Diplomatic Courier
The Vienna Convention has another potential loophole: "The diplomatic courier, who shall be provided with an official document indicating his status and the number of packages constituting the diplomatic bag, shall be protected by the receiving State in the performance of his functions. He shall enjoy person inviolability and shall not be liable to any form of arrest and detention." The convention continues, "The sending State or the mission may designate couriers ad hoc."
So why not just have the Venezuelan ambassador to Moscow hand Snowden a diplomatic pouch and ask him to carry it to Caracas? Snowden would, in theory, be protected as an officially designated courier until he delivered the pouch, at which point he could apply for asylum in Venezuela.
There's a catch: "Diplomatic couriers still require visas," Peter Spiro, professor of law at Temple University and a blogger at Opinio Juris, tells FP. "I think it would be unusual to have a non-national designated as a courier. This wouldn't fly."