back to article Play the Snowden flights boardgame: Avoid going directly to Jail

If Vladimir Putin is to be believed, the PRISM whistleblower Edward Snowden is considering his options from the transit capsule hotel at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport. A plane full of journalists, anticipating he would join them, flew from the city for Caracas via Havana yesterday, but Snowden stayed put by the …


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  1. DrStrangeLug

    Slap in the face

    Could they put him up in a soyuz and de-orbit it over Cuba?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Slap in the face

      Great minds think alike - you beat me to the first post :-)

    2. mmeier

      Re: Slap in the face

      Why waste a Soyuz? Strap him to an old "to be decommissioned" ICBM and launch. Solves all problems

    3. Rob

      Re: Slap in the face

      Don't forget the US has it's unmanned stealth shuttle designed for smash and grabs or is it experiments, I can't remember, so that rules out the soyuz.

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Slap in the face

        The X37B is too small to grab a Soyuz (ala 'You Only Live Twice'), but it could presumably carry some kind of weapon. Also, although there is one in orbit right now, it was launched last December so presumably hasn't been specially fitted with Snowden grabbing equipment.

        There is apparently plans for an X-38C which would be larger, but the US would have to be pretty quick off the mark to launch something in time to make a rendezvous with a Soyuz, especially if the Soyuz was doing it's best not to be intercepted.

        Or, he could just get on a plane.

        1. mmeier

          Re: Slap in the face

          Maybe there are some LIM-49 Spartan still in storage for just such a job. A nice 5MT Enhance Radiation warhead and "close" counts...

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why not go high...? (Up I mean)

    Isn't the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Russia somewhere?

    Why not go up into space and then land back down where he wants, surely this would get around the airspace issue?

    Anonymous as I know Im going to get ribbed about this...

    PS - I was even thinking about a hot-air ballon in orbit as an easier solution - like Virgin did a few years ago! :>

    1. Simon Harris Silver badge

      Re: Why not go high...? (Up I mean)

      Or down...

      How about a trip across Russia to Vladivostok, nuclear sub to somewhere near the Ecuador coast (probably best give Hawaii a wide berth), and then launched out of a torpedo tube on one of those person carrying torpedoes and left to make his way ashore somewhere secluded.

      Strangely, Google maps didn't come up with that solution.

      Oops... Google will probably pass on the fact that I looked it up, and the NSA will be on MY tail now!

      1. dssf

        Re: Why not go high...? (Up I mean)

        If they are on YOUR tail, then maybe they'll be on mine, too. I am just self-annoyed that i did not two week or so ago think of what I say below:

        Suppose he never left Hong Kong. Suppose everything since his arrival was a feint, and that he's on a junket/junk bobbing around in the Hong Kong harbor. As busy as it is there, it's entirely possible he was stuffed in a counterfeit duffel bag, absconded to a minisub or other sub, then taken out that way. Suppose this is the one occasion where Xi an Putin spoke privately, in agreement, to SHAFT (Snowden Has A Fine Tool/Snowden Has Allowed Fuc*ing Them; Snowden, Have A Fun Trip) the USA.

        I it is possible that to prove his rejection to the USA, snowden left a finger in Hong Kong, and left a finger in the passenger terminal in one of those magic door-facing rooms. Plausibly, then, "he" (a piece of him, anyway) "is still in the airport" applies. Just, well, a piece that is definitely in "arrested development', maybe a pinkey here, and a pinkey there, so he can still type in the per-file passwords.

        Or, maybe he had a special "extraction", also involving "loyalty root canals".

        It may be that from the very beginning, his departure from the State, umm, state of Hawaii was very well coordinated, orchestrated, and set into motion, with China and Russia pulling the strings. This would be an interesting combination of Russian Rue-Let!, and Chinese Art of War.

        If so, then, so far, masterfully played.

        I concede that I possibly give both antagonists too much credit.

        But, considering how masterfully and openly Soviets/Russians can "award metals" (polonium infused treats) without much opposition, interdiction, or resistance, maybe they can pull off just about ANYthing if they want to.

      2. James Micallef Silver badge

        Re: Why not go high...? (Up I mean)

        Why not?

        Good idea, but obvious reason why not is spelled out in the article itself - that both the Soyuz and nuclear sub options would require active cooperation from Russian gov, which will not be forthcoming.

        The problem for him isn't just avoiding countries that have extradition treaties with US, it's also avoiding countries where 'accidents' could happen to him and that rules out pretty much any commercial airline choice through Middle East / Africa

        As long as he is (apparently) free to move around in Russia and can get to Vladivostok or any Pacific coast (or, indeed, also Arctic since we keep being told there's no more ice up there) port, why bother with the nuclear sub? Just get on a ship bound for Ecuador or Cuba, it's probably a lot cheaper to charter than a plane.

  3. Khaptain Silver badge

    Private , he going to have to go private

    If someone else is providing the funds then a nice Gulfstream 650 or a Falcon 7x could have him whisked off to anywhere that he pleases in no time at all.

    A quick stop in the Azores, Marocco, Canaries etc...

    1. Suricou Raven

      Re: Private , he going to have to go private

      He won't be funding anything right now: The US will certainly have ordered his assets frozen, so all he has to pay his way is the money he could carry, and that's probably almost all gone on the flight to Russia. Wherever he goes, he'll need someone to foot the bill.

      1. dssf

        Re: Private , he going to have to go private

        Not if he, Russia, and China planned it all from months ago. If so, then they would have prepared fake documents for him in advance, and he'd be able to freely pay his own way so long as he can deflect or confuse facial recognition cameras. Not terribly difficult if he is either embedded in soupy crowds, or if he is plastered in elderly-man makeup like that is humourously (after the fact, since he was apparently not a tearoarwrist)

        . If he avoided gait-analyzing software (assume that ALL NSA types of employees pass through biometrics and gait-analysis entry/exit points (I saw as much on the HK movie side in a Jet Li movie from around 1992, Hitman, which was edited OUT OF the USA market version (also edited out were quick scenes of Jet Li donning new attire to disguise his hitman status, capped of with a faux gay/gayish/flamy wrist action, hehehe), but I had a Hong Kong version, fortunately), then it would be easy to avoid any possible NSA-grafted-on gate gait grabbing software. IIRC, USA-based mystery/spy movies did not begin screen-possiting such software until after 2005. Maybe a reader can correct the year, if I am mistaken.

    2. Tom 13

      Re: Private , he going to have to go private

      Private airplane is probably the worst of all moves. If you assume as everyone seems to be doing that the military-industrial-intelligence complex is out to snuff him, one manpad is all you need. Bonus points for blaming it on global terrorism and upping the threat level.

      If you're trying to get him out quietly, a military sub is probably your best option. Of course that has high risks too, but only if you assume the Soviets/Russians don't want him to arrive safely at his destination and don't already have copies of the data he stole.

      The best route would probably have been a direct flight from Hong Kong, or even more preferably Hawaii before the story broke. Of course that would have required a bit of minimal planning beforehand. Not the sort of thing the Hero of the World is expected to engage in before standing up for our privacy now is it?

  4. Colin Miller

    Fly east?

    Why didn't he fly East from HK to Guayaquil, Ecuador? Cathy Pacific (and American Airlines, but he wouldn't want to use AA) do this, only £2,300 for a short notice return (second ticket not used). As long as it doesn't go over Midway Atoll, it would probably have been easier.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. JohnG Silver badge

      Re: Fly east?

      "Why didn't he fly East from HK to Guayaquil, Ecuador?"

      Probably because he had been told that "he would be arrested within hours" and there were no flights to Guayaquil at the weekend.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Fly east?

        > attracting attention, which may be the point of all this stupidity.

        Quite. Whilst a cat and mouse game is fun and all, fewer people are taking notice of the import of what he leaked. How's Bradley getting, anyhows?

      2. Tom 13

        Re: he would be arrested within hours

        WTF? He walked off with data from the most secret spy group in the worlds first hyper power and he wasn't expecting that when the story broke he'd be in danger of "being arrested within hours"? This is weekend D&D 101: Think through your plan before your punch the ancient huge red dragon in the nose. And even with a superb plan, it's probably not a good idea if you're a first level character.

  5. DuncanL

    Boring as it may be - amusing suggestions of space based escapes would be rather harder for Putin to pass off as "not helping" than simply introducing a new Aeroflot route for a few days...

    How about a tunnel through the centre of the Earth instead?....

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      >How about a tunnel through the centre of the Earth instead?.

      Repeat to yourself: 'I shall watch not remakes of classic Paul Verhoven films.' [Total Recall]

  6. BillG Silver badge

    Mr. Assange™ Says...

    Look at me! What about me? What about me?

    1. Marvin the Martian

      Re: Mr. Assange™ Says...

      Julian is playing on another board. Namely, the London-centred board of the original 'catch mr. X' game, --- Mr. Snowden is playing the 21st century update of the game, more reasonably involving airlines than tub stops.

      // A bit mystifying that a London-based El Reg doesn't refer to the actual board game -- it's not that well-known everywhere.

  7. S4qFBxkFFg

    Flight to a (non air)port then ship?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Flight to a (non air)port then ship?

      This has the problem that he needs to "enter Russia" and it seems the Russian authoritees are keen to be able to finesse the situation by saying that as he's in the transit lounge he's not really in Russia so its nothing to do with them.

      However, in reality, I suspect the first paragraph should read

      Vladimir Putin is believed to be considering his options for the PRISM whistleblower Edward Snowden in the transit capsule hotel at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport.

      Just as various people said when Snowden turned up in HK that his fate there was down to Beijing (and interview in Guardian a couple of days ago with someone connected to HK authorities seemed to say that HK's only role was to be told by Beijing that "Snowden is leaving - you are not to stop him") then now his pitched up in Moscow I think its up to Putin where/when he goes next.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Alternative explanation..

    .. they are talking to him in an uncomfortable room about all he knows about the NSA.

    It did strike me as a tad risky to be ex NSA with allegedly a head full of juicy secrets (after all, he stated himself he had access to a lot more) and then immediately wander into countries who would really, really like to have that data. He could end up having to choose between giving either secrets or fingernails.

    I hope not, but it's a risk.

    1. Suricou Raven

      Re: Alternative explanation..

      Thus all the journalists. If the Russian government wants to disappear him for interrogation, they'll have to be very careful about it - there'd be terrible political fallout if they openly displayed the Bad Old Days were still running.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Tom 13

        Re: terrible political fallout if they openly displayed the Bad Old Days

        You mean worse fallout than publicly supporting the Syrian Scourge? Damn that's strong Kool-Aid you've been swilling. You'd best hope there really is a UFO coming with that next comet.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      ".. they are talking to him in an uncomfortable room about all he knows about the NSA."

      Or he's freely giving them any information they want (and as much as he can produce) in exchange for safety on the terminal, to be raised with a scheduled direct flight.

      That would be the most likely scenario in my opinion. He's already an unwanted person, so he basically has nothing to lose any more.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        Re: @AC

        This kind of thing seemed much easier to pull off in the Bourne films.

        As you were everyone.

        1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

          Re: "This kind of thing seemed much easier to pull off in the Bourne films"

          True, but Jason Bourne was a remorseless one-man murder team of great efficiency, with the added benefit that his murders were covered by Hollywood Anonymity.

          Snowdon may be a tad less keen on showing his mad murder skillz, assuming that he has any to speak of, since Hollywood has a lot less importance with Interpol and the International Court of Justice than they hint at in their films.

    3. Tom 13

      Re: head full of juicy secrets

      He was barely at the NSA for 30 days and was a sysadmin, not an analyst. There are no juicy secrets in his head, only on his laptops. All the spy agencies know that.

      Which is probably the best protection he has with the Russians (and had with the Chicoms). If their questioning inadvertently kills him, they don't get the good stuff they want. Old hands you can count on to be calculating their plan to survive and so have some leverage. Noobs doing it for patriotic reasons are completely unpredictable.

  9. Timmay


    Are countries really allowed to have a say in who can and can't use the international flight tracks over them?

    Known criminals must travel these routes all the time, traversing countries they're wanted in, but I always thought so long as you don't set foot in that country you were fine...?

    1. Russ Tarbox

      Re: Airspace

      There are multiple airlines that aren't allowed to enter European airspace due to poor safety records.

      I think any country is allowed to determine who/what enters its airspace, and escort anyone unwelcome using fighter jets if necessary.

    2. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Re: Airspace

      I seem to remember a flight from Europe (France) to Canada being escorted to land in the US to arrest someone on board (despite the fact that the US and Canada have extradition agreements)

    3. mmeier

      Re: Airspace

      Even if they do not have the legal rights - do you really believe a commercial pilot argues with a fighter plane? As soon as the fighter pilot asks "Your callsign is really KAL 007" he will land.

    4. Aldous

      Re: Airspace

      No fly list's exist and can be a real ball ache if your name is similar to a known terrorist

      1. The Indomitable Gall

        Re: Airspace


        "No fly list's exist and can be a real ball ache if your name is similar to a known terrorist"

        I think you mean a suspected terrorist. Most known terrorsists (in the legal sense of innocent until proven guilty) are in jail... or dead.

        Some of these suspected terrorists are really terrorists, but some are just people who have visited the wrong place at the wrong time.

    5. John Watts
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Airspace

      An excerpt from:

      For the Libyan raid, the United States was denied overflight rights by France, Spain and Italy as well as the use of European continental bases, forcing the Air Force portion of the operation to be flown around France, Spain and through the Straits of Gibraltar, adding 1,300 miles (2,100 km) each way and requiring multiple aerial refuelings. The French refusal alone added 2,800 km total, and was imposed despite the fact that France itself had been the target of terrorism directed by the Gaddafi government in Libya. French president Mitterrand refused its clearance because the United States refused to give to the French army all details about the operation and he did not want to authorize any foreign operation that couldn't be analysed by French authorities.


      Some bombs landed off-target, striking diplomatic and civilian sites in Tripoli, while the French embassy was only narrowly missed.

      Probably just an unfortunate coincidence.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Airspace

        1986 Libya attack.

        I used to play that mission a lot in "F-19 Stealth Fighter" on my Amiga. The other operation I used to fly a lot involved stooging over Eastern Europe where I would sneak up under the Soviet AWACs aircraft and bring them down with a bit of old-fashioned gunnery at point-blank.

        Don't know why I mention that, it's not as if anyone in this day and age would try and bring down a large Soviet jet without appearing on radar themselves......

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: Airspace

          >despite the fact that France itself had been the target of terrorism directed by the Gaddafi government in Libya.

          Whatever. Too much smoke to tell.



          "Things come and go in the news cycle like waves of fever. A year ago Colonel Gaddafi was killed and an avalanche of camera phone footage of his last minutes was played again and again on the news channels. Then it stopped - and Gaddafi disappeared off into the dark.

          "What remains is all the footage recording Gaddafi's forty year career as a global weirdo. But the closer you look at the footage and what lies behind it - you begin to discover an odd story that casts a rather unflattering light on many of the elites in both the British and American establishments."

    6. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Airspace

      Yes, and in addition the US doesn't have transit lounges - so if your plane needs to refuel in Miami going from S America to Europe you need to have a US visa.

      It's one of the selling points of the new Boeing 7E7 that it can do most of S America to europe/middle east without going through the US.

      It's had to consider yourself part of the new BRIC economy if you have to ask the old economy's permission to travel.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Airspace

        We don't have lounges because we don't allow via-less transit, even between connecting flights. The UK is not really any better: both nations require all transit passengers to proceed through normal border checks. I knew an American who had overstayed on a previous visit to the UK; she was intercepted, detained in transit, and forbidden to travel onward to Europe. After a lengthy interview, they banned her for something like 15 years and put her on the next flight home. So it goes in the brave new world.

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Airspace

      I guess it all depends on just how badly the government of the country being flown over wants the person in question. In theory, under current practices, governments do have that right.

      But it you'd think diverting the route of a flight to avoid entering U.S. airspace would be something airlines would be prepared to do when necessary.

    8. Tom 13

      Re: Airspace

      The key word here is "airspace" which has a technical international definition, and yes, the country controls its own airspace. If you fly outside the airspace like the US did with the U2s for a while the only risk you run is whether or not you get shot down. But those are pretty much all military planes (IM3 not withstanding) anyway, and that's a different playing field. Commercial flights necessarily go through either national or international airspace.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "Really it's just the airline schedules that are the problem. "

    No, fleeing to somewhere that has an extradition treaty with the USA was the problem, compounded by seemingly making a panicky flight to Russia and ending up with nowhere to go, short of someone giving him a free ride somewhere "safe", with an exotic flight path, that was the problem.

  11. The Man Himself Silver badge

    in transit

    If he's technically in neutral ground right now in Moscow, would he not be in similarly neutral ground (and so safe from the local authorities) if he transited through any other airport on a connecting flight?

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. smudge Silver badge

        Re: in transit

        Airport border guards have the right to police the zone behind the border ... otherwise they would be glorious hotspots of the drug trade and replete with trafficked prostitutes.

        That would be better than all these bloody shops! Wouldn't mind delays then....


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