Edward Snowden should have learned from Vladimiro Montesinos

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Late October in the year 2000, your reporter was at his home in the Netherlands when the phone rang. It was Marc M. Harris, the former offshore financier who was a friend at the time. He couldn't tell why, but urged me to come to Panama at once, for an important story. I couldn't, and didn't go.

Big mistake.

A couple of days later, the world headlines were dominated by the flight back to Peru of spymaster Vladimiro Montesinos, who had come to Panama in an unsuccessful bid to get political asylum while the Fujimori government in Peru fell apart.

Montesinos, who was an American intelligence asset, had involuntarily become a CIA whistleblower of sorts when hundreds of videos he had secretly recorded in his offices were leaked, showing him bribing half the political and legal class of his country. These so-called "Vladi-videos" kept Latin America glued to the tube for days, if not weeks.

Montesinos flew back to Peru in Marc Harris' plane, high drama ensued immediately and further increased when they were detained at an airport in Ecuador where they had to refuel. Entering Peruvian airspace, the little Beechcraft  was engaged by the Peruvian air force, but eventually Montesinos made it back safely, though not for long.

Harris had planned for me to be on that plane, and to this day I regret I didn't jet off to Panama when he asked me to.

I'm reminded of this affair now that Edward Snowden remains in legal limbo at the Moscow airport and the Bolivian president Evo Morales was practically held hostage in Europe as the US suspected he might have Snowden aboard his presidential jet.

Montesinos made it, because he defied all obstacles put in his way. He personally took the radio of the plane to talk to Peruvian air force pilots. He worked his satellite phone while they were held in Ecuador to get permission to take off again.

But what followed was is even more relevant for the Snowden case. Because, Montesinos did not stay in Peru for long, but left again. A wanted man - just like Snowden - he didn't opt for a high profile plane ride on a commercial flight.

He did what Snowden should probably have done: He boarded a sailing yacht. They yacht brought him to Costa Rica. He crossed that country to the Caribbean coast and boarded another yacht and, through Aruba, made it to Venezuela.

Think about it. Hong Kong has an incredibly busy port, where ships and yachts, big and small, come and go by the dozens every day. To get Snowden out of there unnoticed would have been the proverbial piece of cake. He would simply have disappeared for a couple of weeks and then, having crossed the Pacific, pop up in Ecuador to apply for asylum.

As today's events have shown again, it is a mistake to count on politicians and diplomacy to solve these high profile cases. Assange is locked up in an embassy in London. Bradley Manning is in jail. Snowden is turning into a tool for leaders all over the place to make political hay out of the NSA spying scandal.

A hero like Snowden should not be flying into the radar, but below it. The "open source" nature of the NSA scandal, the activities of WikiLeaks and the protests generated by these should be extended into how we protect the sources, the whistleblowers and the publishers of explosive information. The Underground Railroad, the resistance against the Nazis, the Exodus - none of it depended or waited for asylum or permission to board commercial flights or get travel documents. It should not be left to governments.

3 thoughts on “Edward Snowden should have learned from Vladimiro Montesinos

  1. This Snowden affair is just not adding up?

    It is starting to stink like high cyberspace!~

    Is Snowden really not a plant by the US intelligence services to root out internal and external whistle blowers?

    Seems Snowden had way too much access to Top Secrete and Secrete Digital files and information for his pay grade as an overpaid private contractor for Booz Allen, which those types of high IT/Security positions with highly over blown salaries are usually reserved for directors only!

  2. Donated to wikileaks today and wrote “Edward Snowden” in the comments. I know that it will not go to his defense, but they were helping him at some point, so i just wanted to show some support for that.

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