Edward Snowden is the most sought-after leaker of national security secrets in the world right now — maybe ever — except that, well, it appears that nobody has any idea where on earth he actually is. The 29-year-old former Booz Allen defense contractor working with the National Security Agency, reportedly in Hong Kong and trying to get out, has gone AWOL, and the chase is on, for sleuths both real and amateur.
Snowden was in a hotel in Hong Kong when The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald last spoke with him, on June 6, even though his tell-all video interview went online Sunday. He was holed up in his room ordering room service, rarely leaving in case secret agents were waiting for him on the other side. The hotel was allegedly "just up the road" from the U.S. consulate on Hong Kong's main island — which just so happens to have a CIA station.
Now, Snowden is likely on the move in Hong Kong. The Washington Post reports someone named Edward Snowden was checked out of the Mira Hotel on Monday morning. CNN has also been told someone named Snowden checked out Monday morning. The Mira Hotel is not "just up the road" from the consulate, though; it's across the harbour from the main island. Here's a map:
It's a rather long, winding drive, as you can see. But some theorists didn't think Snowden was staying at the Mira, based on clues they've picked up in that initial video interview. Talking Points Memo's Hunter Walker figured Snowden was likely at the Mandarin Oriental:
The Mandarin Oriental is just a short walk to the walled off US consulate in Hong Kong twitter.com/hunterw/status…— Hunter Walker (@hunterw) June 9, 2013
"I've been in that hotel and the consulate detail as well as distinctive black room detailing seem to be giveaways," Walker added later. But there's always a chance Snowden is jumping around from hotel to hotel, as there's no hard evidence about his whereabouts since Greenwald's last contact with his then-anonymous source, when they recorded the video four days ago.
But the timeline of Snowden's travel is also under some scrutiny. Snowden told Greenwald he left his house and girlfriend in Hawaii on May 20 and flew to Hong Kong. But a real estate agent told the Associated Press that the couple moved out of their house in Hawaii on May 1. There's no word yet where he spent the 20 days between, though he was likely moving out and flying to Hong Kong, where he's been for an undisclosed length of time. So here's a brief timeline, compiled from what Snowden has said on the reocrd :
- Snowden and his girlfriend moved out of their house on May 1.
- Snowden flew from Hawaii to Hong Kong on May 20.
- Snowden was in a hotel in Hong Kong, possibly the Mandarin or the Mira, on June 6, when he was interviewed by Greenwald.
- Snowden is not staying at the Mira as of June 10.
So now Snowden is in Hong Kong, possibly jumping from hotel to hotel, living on borrowed time. U.S. nationals can stay in Hong Kong for 90 days without claiming asylum or an extended visa. He's said that his ultimate destination is seeking asylum in Iceland, which, unsurprisingly, is complicated. He has to get himself there first:
Applications for asylum shall be submitted to the police that carry out the preliminary inquiry in association with the Directorate. According to Para 1 Article 46 of the Act on Foreigners a person has to be present within or at the borders of Iceland to be able to apply for asylum in Iceland. Applications received from abroad, for example with e-mail, cannot be processed.
Did he already book a flight? These questions, and many others, will hopefully be answered within the next few days. Or hours, with the way Snowden's story has been unfolding.
(Additional reporting by Philip Bump.)