The NSA Leaks: HK-US visa waiver in danger (and more)

  • No actual confirmed sightings of Snowden in Moscow, rumours he never arrived there
  • Snowden aided by legislator cum barrister Albert Ho
  • Moody’s downgrades Hong Kong banks, possibly retaliation by the US?
  • Vote on HK-US visa waiver agreement today possibly affected

The Atlantic Wire points out that while Snowden is allegedly in Moscow waiting for a flight to Cuba and then Ecuador, no one has actually seen him:

There’s even some speculation that he was never in Moscow (or already left), and the entire adventure is an elaborate ruse concocted with the help of WikiLeaks lawyers. (Their founder Julian Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for more than a year. He is planning to hold a news conference at 10:00 a.m. ET.)  No one saw him get off the plane in Moscow, there’s been no solid confirmation that he’s even in the airport, and the only statement from Wikileaks is that “He is bound for the Republic of Ecuador via a safe route for the purposes of asylum, and is being escorted by diplomats and legal advisers from WikiLeaks.”

Secondly, it’s been pointed out that the Hong Kong government’s official statement never actually stated that Snowden was headed to Russia, merely that he left for a “third country”.  Even the Guardian, the original source of the NSA leaks, raised the question of whether Snowden was ever in Moscow:

As the Aeroflot jet bound for Havana rolled away from the gate at Sheremetyevo airport, the question became: was he ever even really here?

[…]He was reportedly in Moscow for 21 hours but no photographs or video of him have emerged – no leaks from the Federal Security Service or police, who use the website Life News to broadcast the news they want the world to see.

[…]When it emerged on Sunday morning that Snowden had boarded Aeroflot flight SU23 from Hong Kong to Moscow en route to an undisclosed third country, journalists streamed towards the airport. They shoved pictures of Snowden into the faces of disembarking passengers, asking: “Have you seen this man?”

Most shrugged and pushed on through the crowd.

As for how Snowden managed to leave Hong Kong (assuming he did), it is verified by Reuters that the Hong Kong government waited four whole days (June 17-21) to request “additional information” from the United States, more than enough time for Snowden to find out about the news and to plan his escape.  I think it’s sad that the Hong Kong government does not see fit to be more open and direct in its choice to send Snowden along, instead spewing all this talk about “technicalities”.  People will also wonder for the rest of time whether China played a hand in Snowden’s escape, dealing a severe blow to “one country, two systems”, which is already on life support.

The New York Times has reported that Snowden has been receiving help from legislator Albert Ho and his team of lawyers, but they superseded by the government’s intervention:

Source:New York Times

But Mr. Snowden’s choice of Mr. Ho to represent him raised a problem, said the person knowledgeable about the government’s deliberations[…]

The Hong Kong government doesn’t trust [Ho],” the person said, adding that the Hong Kong government also did not want to be involved in any direct negotiations with Mr. Snowden. So the government found an intermediary, someone with longstanding connections to the local government but not in office, to bypass Mr. Ho[…]

The SCMP added:

“By going through not entirely legal avenues, and using a person whose identity isn’t entirely clear to tell [Snowden] that the government wants him to leave. This is a highly unusual action,” he said.

“I have reasons to believe that… those who wanted him to leave represented Beijing authorities,” Ho said.

“The Hong Kong government has no power to decide or say anything whatsoever, not even the power to notify me [about an official stance],” said Ho.

Meanwhile, Moody’s (a US corporation) has downgraded its outlook on Hong Kong’s banks, seen as some as too coincidental and in fact a form of retaliation:

Moody’s this morning came out a downgraded the Hong Kong banking sector outlook to negative. They cited concerns over real negative interest rates and cited the possibility of real Hong Kong property bubbles. One has to find it hard to believe they are just now realizing the outsized prices in the Hong Kong property market.

But the kicker is Moody’s main concern is Hong Kong’s increasing exposure to mainland China. Because a part of China being exposed to China is something new and must be monitored.

This doesn’t mean the downgrade wasn’t warranted. China has systemic issues. It is the timing that makes it funny. Hong Kong downgraded the US foreign policy to pathetic with an outlook of do you even know what you are doing over the weekend. So this makes it look more than coincidental.

This is in addition to possibly denying Hong Kongers a visa-free waiver for visiting the US, as I touched on in my previous post.  Turns out there is going to be a vote on this today:

Speaking about Hong Kong’s decision to let NSA leaker Edward Snowden leave, without handing him over to American authorities, White House spokesman Jay Carney said that “we find their decision particularly troubling.” Carney added that their decision “unquestionably has a negative impact” on U.S.-Hong Kong relations, and called it a “setback.”

Which is all very relevant to the immigration bill, which Congress is currently debating and which will be voted on later today in the Senate. That’s because on pages 1020-1021, there’s a special provision giving Hong Kong access to the Visa Waiver Program.

Finally, the SCMP has just reported that Snowden joined Booz Allen Hamilton for the sole purpose of gathering evidence on NSA surveillance programs, while the New York Times (see link above) had this to say:

[…]But Mr. Ho described his client as someone with a vague sense of his legal options and a limited understanding, at least until the dinner over pizza last Tuesday, of his legal rights in Hong Kong. During the dinner, Mr. Ho said, “he came to a full grasp of the situation and better understanding of the reality.”

Mr. Snowden strongly disliked the possibility that he might be held without bail in prison without access to a computer for long periods of time punctuated by numerous court appearances, Mr. Ho said, adding that “he was a loner, he didn’t have much support until people like us” started giving legal advice.

We can thus add “naive”, “computer-addicted”, and “loner” to the ever growing list of descriptions of Snowden, which include “narcissist”, “traitor”, and “coward”.  But none of these terms change the fact that the US government is engaged in illicit spying worldwide, and now everyone knows about it.

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