The whistleblower’s guide: Look before you leak

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, an analyst with a U.S. defence contractor, is seen in this file still image taken from video during an interview by The Guardian in his hotel room in Hong Kong June 6
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, an analyst with a U.S. defence contractor, is seen in this file still image taken from video during an interview by The Guardian in his hotel room in Hong Kong June 6

Edward Snowden seemed pretty smart before his leak of NSA files landed him in a real-life version of Tom Hanks film ‘The Terminal’. With this handy guide you won’t need Julian Assange.

1. Arrange asylum first and leak from host country

It seems obvious, but the stress of canceled passports and airport prisons can be avoided if you do your homework and make a deal with a new country and emigrate there before dropping bombshells. “It’s a good idea to see which countries are sympathetic, every state has a right to refuse extradition for political offences”, says Professor Guy Goodwin-Gill, International Refugee Law specialist at the University of Oxford. Nations with strong opposition to your home country are more likely to support you.

2. Untraceable communications

The best type of leak is face-to-face, a la ‘Deep Throat’ over the Watergate scandal, or mail the information by post. Failing that, use a new laptop bought with cash to avoid synchronization and location-identifying cookies. Use prepaid phone with the battery removed while travelling to avoid the fate of John McAfee, given away by an iPhone while escaping to Guatemala.

3. Have lawyers on the case

Snowden’s mistakes reveal a serious lack of professional advice, which would have stopped him leaking from Hong Kong – a nation with no framework for handling refugees. A lawyer would also have contradicted the Wikileaks advice to break for Latin America via Moscow, and could secure a better deal if Snowden was forced back to the US.

4. Start your own fan club

Popular movements change perceptions and put pressure on the authorities – support for Bradley Manning has strengthened his defense and prosecutors have voluntarily ruled out the death penalty. “Establish a website so that your supporters can follow your case, get your side of the story, and most importantly, make donations to support your defense”, says CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou, and enlist support “from civil rights groups who can explain to the public why what you did is so important”. In our view, Snowden would also benefit from another photo, as the only one in circulation has become boring.

5. ‘Always check your six’

Or ‘look behind you’ – the advice from another NSA leaker Thomas Drake, a reminder that even if you escape there will be people after you. Better your chances by learning to detect spies posing as friends or locals, keep heavy security, and you may avoid the fate of Leon Trotsky, assassinated by undercover Soviet agents in Mexico.


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