Edward Snowden is underground, mobile, and missing. But the former government contractor who leaked National Security Agency documents that turned the world's digital privacy expectations upside-down appears to be keeping up with his plan to seek asylum in Iceland, with an assist from Wikileaks, of course. And the Icelandic government tells The Atlantic Wire that won't be easy.
Reuters reports Snowden contacted the Icelandic government about seeking asylum there through an intermediary last Wednesday, three days after he outed himself, and two days after word spread that he might be looking to head to the Nordic sanctuary from the Far East. He originally told The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald that Iceland was his safe-haven plan all along, despite initially travelling to Hong Kong instead. He's been holed up in China ever since arriving at the end of May, changing hotels, speaking with local newspapers as recently as the same day he made his request to Iceland, and possibly leaving the country since then. We don't know where Snowden is right now — his Guardian chat yesterday didn't provide any answers — but he's clearly been thinking about his next move as even President Obama said last night on Charlie Rose that there's an ongoing investigation into "Mr. Snowden." Turns out, Mr. Snowden got WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson to contact the Icelandic government about housing him:
In a column in Icelandic daily Frettabladid, WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson wrote that a middleman had approached him on behalf of Snowden.
"On 12 June, I received a message from Edward Snowden where he asked me to notify the Icelandic government that he wanted to seek asylum in Iceland," Hrafnsson, who is also an investigative journalist in Iceland, told Reuters.
It's unclear whether Iceland will welcome the whistleblower or not. But his time in Hong Kong is running short, if he is indeed still there. Americans have 90 days to get a visa extension or claim asylum in Hong Kong or risk deportation. Which, given the situation, is exactly what he's trying to avoid. If Snowden arrived on May 20 as he claims, he's already been there for 29 days. He's got 61 days left. Seems like a good time to start making the requisite calls.
But if Snowden wants to do this — if his end goal, or at least temporary play, is really asylum in Iceland — then Snowden has to arrive in or around Iceland before the country will ever decide whether to let him stay. Jóhannes Tómasson, press secretary for the Icelandic government, told The Atlantic Wire's Philip Bump last week that Snowden has to physically be in Iceland, or at least near the border, in order to earn asylum there:
Applications for asylum shall be submitted to the police that carry out the preliminary inquiry in association with the Directorate. According to Para 1 Article 46 of the Act on Foreigners a person has to be present within or at the borders of Iceland to be able to apply for asylum in Iceland. Applications received from abroad, for example with e-mail, cannot be processed.
Expect TMZ-level paparazzi — and certainly international investigators — in and around Iceland. Of course, the spies are already waiting, aren't they?