The NSA Leaker’s Dumb Choice of Refuge: Hong Kong
There has been a rightful flurry of media interest in the saga of Edward Snowden, the U.S. government contractor who is the apparent source of the leaks about the U.S. National Security Program’s data mining surveillance program. One area of focus is Snowden’s decision to take refuge in Hong Kong from a possible prosecution by the U.S. government.
As I noted here in my comments to this Foreign Policy post, this is an odd, borderline dumb, choice of refuge. As everyone now realizes, the U.S. has a special extradition agreement with Hong Kong, although it does not have one in China. This agreement looks pretty similar to other U.S. extradition agreements, and it has been something that the U.S. government and the HK governments valued so highly that they executed it in 1997, after HK’s return to Chinese sovereignty, to ensure continued cooperation in these sorts of matters.
If Snowden was really afraid of extradition, he should have gone to a place like Ecuador, which has shown it does not mind angering the U.S. Or he could have wandered across the border into China, which doesn’t have an extradition treaty. But in choosing Hong Kong, he exposes himself to a real possibility of an extradition proceeding without any guarantee of his prevailing. And he launches a zillion conspiracy theories about his real intentions: is he secretly planning to turn himself into the Chinese government?
What he will get, I suppose, is the maximum level of publicity he could desire and a level of celebrity Julian Assange will be envious of. Which is probably what he wants.