U.S. officials tried really, really hard to catch Edward Snowden but still couldn't do it

The Washington Post takes a fascinating look at how the U.S. tried -- and failed -- to catch the whistleblower

Published June 15, 2014 7:48PM (EDT)


The Washington Post has a pretty fascinating piece looking at how the FBI, the CIA, the State Department and other agencies spent weeks trying -- and failing -- to catch Edward Snowden after he fled to Hong Kong and eventually landed in Russia. As Greg Miller's reporting makes clear, the United States kept waiting for Snowden to miscalculate and expose himself to being apprehended, but it never happened.

“The best play for us is him landing in a third country,” White House homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco said of the agencies' strategy, according to an official who spoke with Miller. “We were hoping he was going to be stupid enough to get on some kind of airplane, and then have an ally say: ‘You’re in our airspace. Land.’”

At one point, the FBI enlisted the help of Snowden's father, who eventually stopped cooperating after he concluded that the U.S. was trying to depict his son as a traitor:

From the outset, the pursuit of Snowden was led by the FBI. Lon Snowden, the fugitive’s father, said FBI agents descended on his house within hours after a video of his son identifying himself as the source of the NSA leaks appeared on the Web site of the British news outlet the Guardian.

“I spoke to them approximately four hours on the 10th of June,” Lon Snowden said. Later, the FBI offered to send the elder Snowden to Moscow as part of an effort to deliver a scripted pitch to his son to turn himself in and return home. A former officer in the Coast Guard, Lon Snowden was initially cooperative with the bureau but became angered as his son was depicted by U.S. officials as a traitor.

“I came to know that they were not functioning in good faith” and turned down the trip, Snowden said.

Snowden's exact location continues to evade security officials, even as he speaks with journalists and make public media appearances:

Others said the United States lacks answers to even basic questions about Snowden’s circumstances, including where he lives and — perhaps most important — the role of the Russian security service, the FSB, in his day-to-day life.

Asked whether the United States knows Snowden’s location, a U.S. official regularly briefed on the matter said, “That’s not our understanding.”

The gaps persist despite Snowden’s ability to meet with U.S. journalists in Moscow and make high-profile appearances, including during a call-in show with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin.

Michael McFaul, who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia until February, said he never had detailed information on the American fugitive’s whereabouts. “I do not know where Mr. Snowden is living, what his relationship to the Russian government is or how he makes a living,” said McFaul, who has returned to the faculty at Stanford University.

You can read the rest here.


By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Cia Edward Snowden Fbi Hong Kong Moscow Russia State Department Whistleblower