MOSCOW — Fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden seemingly vanished into thin air in Moscow after arriving from Hong Kong at the weekend. Now the hunt is on to find where on earth he is.
Snowden’s round-the-world travels with no valid passport and caches of files revealing the dirty secrets of Washington’s super-espionage efforts are the stuff of James Bond movies from the Cold War.
Here is a summary of what we know about Snowden’s whereabouts since his decision to spill the beans on US and UK surveillance programs.
Exit from Hong Kong
The anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks said Snowden left Hong Kong for Moscow on Sunday on Aeroflot flight SU 213.
It said that he had received emergency refugee travel papers from Ecuador — the state where he wants to seek political asylum and which is currently sheltering WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at its London embassy.
Washington had by this point revoked Snowden’s passport and had filed an extradition request to Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong government said Washington’s paperwork was incomplete and that Snowden had “voluntarily” left China’s special administrative region for a third country.
Dozens of journalists swarming Moscow’s grungy Sheremetyevo international airport’s Terminal F failed to spot Snowden in the crowd of passengers disembarking the Aeroflot flight from Hong Kong.
Some of those on board nodded when shown a picture of Snowden and asked if they had seen anyone like that on their flight.
Reports then emerged that Snowden was staying in the so-called “transit zone” — an airport no-man’s land that is not actually Russia proper because it ends prior to passport control.
No show on Moscow-Havana flight
Snowden was checked in on Aeroflot’s Monday SU 150 flight to Havana but never appeared on board — unleashing speculation of his intentions and whereabouts.
Some say he may have never intended to go to Havana and had just wanted to throw journalists off his scent.
Interfax said that he may have already secretly slipped out of Russia by the time the flight departed.
ITAR-TASS countered with information from an unnamed source that Snowden was definitely still at Sheremetyevo.
Intelligence “veterans” quoted by both Interfax and RIA Novosti speculated that Snowden was far too valuable a find for Russia to let him go so easily.
Meanwhile desperate journalists on board flight SU 150 had nothing left to do but resign themselves to a half-day flight around the world with no booze served.
Where is Snowden now?
Speculation now abounds as to the whereabouts of the man Washington has painted as the most dangerous leaker of the cyber era.
He could still be staying in the box-like rooms of the “capsule hotel” inside the Sheremetyevo departures area where he is reported to have spent Monday night.
He may have left Russia or been taken for special debriefings somewhere in Moscow or even given refuge at a South American embassy in Russia.
Or he simply could be killing time before taking a flight out of Moscow some other day in the hopes he will not be pursued by the press.
Sources quoted by Russian news agencies have been adamant that Snowden is a transit passenger who never crossed the border after arriving from Hong Kong.
But Snowden has also never been seen by any journalist at the Moscow airport. This has led to conjecture that he may have never travelled to Moscow at all.