The world awaits Snowden’s great escape

Where should Edward Snowden go next – and how will he get there?

Yesterday's news that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is to seek temporary political asylum in Russia after three weeks in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport serves to reinforce the obstacles facing his attempts to travel as far as the trio of Latin American countries, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia, willing to offer him permanent asylum.

Already, the world’s attentions are focused on his move- ments, both real and imagined – witness the flush of excitement that flickered across the internet on Thursday.

An Aeroflot flight from Moscow to Havana took an unusual route directly across the Atlantic, rather than the usual path over Iceland, Greenland, Canada and, conspiracy theorists hastened to point out, the US.

There could be only one reason for such a flight plan, concluded the Twittersphere – Snowden had finally flown the coop. He hadn’t.


This was at least the third time a putative Snowden flight turned us all into plane-watchers – the first time was the June 24th Aeroflot flight to Havana that had a seat booked in Snowden’s name, which he never boarded.

The second was when Bolivian president Evo Morales's flight from Moscow to La Paz was refused entry into French and Spanish airspace, forcing it to land in Vienna – a stark indication of how difficult it will be to get from Russia to South America.

Reuters ha s suggested that Snowden should take a commercial flight – because “commercial carriers have the freedom to use airspace of other countries, known as the ‘first freedom’ of the air”, and because private jets don’t have the range required to get from Moscow to Caracas without refuelling.

Then there is the question of which country he should choose. US economist Tyler Cowen offered some asylum advice: "I say seek out Santa Cruz, Bolivia, which is much richer than Bolivia as a whole and safer than Venezuela at least," he wrote on his blog, Marginal Revolution. "If he loves the beach, however, Leon, Nicaragua, is a charming town."

Some will say our fascination with Snowden’s travel plans is distracting us from his revelations, which have opened our eyes to the scale of the US surveillance industry and sparked a badly needed debate on the nature of privacy in the digital age.