The recent events surrounding Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower, gives us the chance to engage in an interesting thought experiment.
Where would you go if you were Edward Snowden and were being hunted by the most powerful intelligence agencies on the planet?
Now of course this is a farfetched scenario for most of us, which is why this is only a thought experiment. On the other hand, with individuals like Bernard von NotHaus, the Liberty Dollar founder (a gold- and silver-backed private currency) being labeled by the US government as “domestic terrorists,” maybe the situation isn't so implausible.
An important criterion that we should look for in a country is whether or not it has an extradition treaty with the US.
An extradition treaty is a legal mechanism that countries use to transfer people to another country for numerous reasons. The terms and conditions of extradition treaties vary due to the circumstances of each individual case and also from country to country. Some countries (like France and Brazil) will not extradite their own citizens no matter what.
Generally speaking, in order for extradition to be successful, the suspected criminal act must not be political in nature, it must be recognized as a crime in both jurisdictions, and the suspect must not be in danger of receiving the death penalty or torture if transferred.
Absent a formal extradition treaty, transferring individuals becomes much more difficult but certainly not impossible.
Countries with No US Extradition Treaty
|Bhutan||Kuwait||São Tomé & Príncipe|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||Laos||Saudi Arabia|
|the Central African Republic||the Marshall Islands||Togo|
|Dem. Republic of the Congo||Mongolia||United Arab Emirates|
|Cote d' Ivoire||Montenegro||Uzbekistan|
The following countries have extradition treaties, but have shown that they will not always comply with US requests: Bolivia, Ecuador, Iceland, Nicaragua, Switzerland, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.
Hong Kong, the jurisdiction that Snowden first chose, does indeed have an extradition treaty with the US. At this point, Snowden appears to be banking on avoiding extradition by seeking asylum and arguing that his so-called crimes are political in nature. With Snowden currently in limbo in a transit zone in the Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow – which is “not technically in Russia“, according to President Putin – while long-term asylum options are explored, he may be technically freer since there's no extradition treaty, but his presence adds a lot of political pressure to an already delicate relationship.
Escaping to a non-extradition treaty country does not mean that you are home free, but rather will put you at the mercy of your new hosts. You could become a pawn in a larger game and traded away for concessions. The political sands are always shifting, and tomorrow's government may be more accommodative toward the US.
You could also be rendered (kidnapped) by the CIA and brought back to the US without the host government's consent, or fall within the sights of an armed drone. There certainly is no shortage of ways for the US government to hurt you no matter where you are.
While a drone strike on Snowden is currently highly unlikely, some more realistic measures the US government will likely take include canceling Snowden's US passport and cutting off access to his US bank accounts.
Snowden could have better prepared himself for these and related measures, had he established some offshore investments and researched the relative friendliness of other countries with the US. Internationalizing one's assets and life is a prudent and legal way for anyone to escape the increasing control countries are placing their citizens under. As the ongoing Snowden saga demonstrates, it's never to early to prepare.
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