Yesterday, infamous whistleblower Edward Snowden, stuck nearly two weeks in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, finally got some good news: first Nicaragua, then Venezuela (and moments ago Bolivia) broke the rejection letter trend, and in bombastic and very political fashion, offered him asylum (although as with everything in politics nothing is concluded until he is actually on some Latin American beach). However, a question remains: just where is Snowden right now? After all, following his initial public appearance and video with the Guardian and WaPo, there have been virtually no public sightings of him, despite his current location in one of the most public venues in the world: the Moscow airport.
Reuters wonders how this is possible: "The former U.S. spy agency contractor has managed to stay out of sight for two weeks since arriving from Hong Kong on June 23, hoping to fly on to a country that would not send him back to the United States to face espionage charges. The hordes of reporters who for days camped out in the hope of finding him have long since packed up and left. These days Snowden just provides sport for bored passengers trying to spot him as they while away the hours waiting for connecting flights."
Some are amazed he has managed to stay there for 2 weeks:
"I offered my kids $200 to get a picture of him," Simon Parry, a Briton, said as he waited in the interconnected transit area between terminals D, E and F, a maze of corridors, lounges, fast food restaurants and duty free shops."
"The wireless Internet is appalling, the prices are awful, and people never smile. So I commend him for making it 24 hours, let alone two weeks. I might rather face trial," Parry said, sitting with his family at a Burger King outlet in Terminal E."
Nonetheless, there are many options on how to spend one's time:
Could he have been tempted to emerge from hiding to grab a burger, to buy some of the tacky Soviet memorabilia in the duty-free stores, or the diamond-encrusted handbags on sale nearby?
Has he ventured out to admire the displays of red, green and blue Faberge eggs selling for 1,000 euros each, or browsed the 200 euro sunglasses, perhaps to improve his disguise?
Where he has been washing is also not clear, although some toilets and showers dot the transit area. Sleeping cannot have been easy - the hum of vacuum cleaners punctuates the night.
Food in transit area restaurants could be brought to Snowden, even if he dare not venture out himself. He could by now have exhausted the menu at Russian diners like Mama Russia, which offers blinis, red caviar and cabbage soup, or at the two T.G.I. Friday's restaurants offering more international fare.
Olga Samsonova, who has worked as a waitress for 18 years at Sheremetyevo, says the airport food is costly and that Snowden may have turned to handouts from Russian airline Aeroflot.
"That's where he's got his food from. I can't say much about what it tastes like but it's nutritional, more or less. And they give you yogurt for breakfast," she said.
She had seen dozens of people - mostly asylum seekers - take up temporary residence at the airport in the time she has worked there, including an Iranian woman who spent nearly a year in the airport with her children before receiving asylum in Canada.
"At least there are lots of places to sit down," she said, standing over stewed vegetables for sale under the fluorescent lights of Terminal F, built for the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
Still, just where is he in the Moscow labyrinth that is a flashback to the eponymous Tom Hanks movie?
[Snowden] has made himself lost for nearly 12 days in a mile-long transit corridor dotted with six VIP lounges, a 66-room capsule hotel, assorted coffee shops, a Burger King and about 20 duty-free shops selling Jack Daniel’s, Cuban rum, Russian vodka and red caviar that costs four times as much as it does in the city.
Unless he’s across the runway in private Terminal A, in the watchful company of Russian officials.
Everybody wants to find him. Journalists want to interview him. The United States wants to prosecute him. And now Anna Chapman wants to marry him.
He has made himself lost for nearly 12 days in a mile-long transit corridor dotted with six VIP lounges, a 66-room capsule hotel, assorted coffee shops, a Burger King and about 20 duty-free shops selling Jack Daniel’s, Cuban rum, Russian vodka and red caviar that costs four times as much as it does in the city.
Thursday was a quiet day at Sheremetyevo but a normal one, with the packs of journalists tiring of the unrequited chase. Athletic teams from Mongolia and China made their way through the airport en route to university games in Kazan. Families with young children waited for flights to summer resorts.
Anastasia Shodieva was selling costume jewelry and stuffed animals at a souvenir stand near the Skoda car display, where the journalists camped out last week. When asked about Snowden, she had to be prompted.
“Oh, that sort-of agent?” she asked, adding that the affair made no difference to her.
The transit zone
The United States wants Snowden on charges of theft and disclosing classified information in violation of the Espionage Act. Scores of journalists were waiting when his flight from Hong Kong landed June 23 in Terminal F. No sign of him. Others filled seats on Aeroflot to Havana — airport officials said Snowden had a ticket for June 24 — and flew off, taking pictures of his empty seat.
The airport’s half-dozen buildings cover an area as big as about 100 football fields, set off a traffic-clogged road 18 miles from the city center. A transit zone, about a mile long, wends its way along the sides of terminals D, E and F, which are connected by a walkway so arriving passengers can board connecting international flights without having to pass through passport control and customs, which requires a visa.
Terminal D, the most modern part, has soaring ceilings and a men’s room with an age-old smell to it. Tatyana Yudina, at the register of a traditional, lacquered-wood crafts souvenir stand, shrugged at the name “Snowden.”
Last week, journalists staked out a chain called Shokoladnitsa, hoping they would find Snowden drinking a $7 cappuccino or an $11 nonalcoholic mojito with $9 blini and red caviar. Nyet.
The capsule hotel rents tiny rooms for about $15 an hour, with a four-hour minimum. No one was spotted going in and out Thursday, and the clerk on duty frostily declared that she wasn’t allowed to talk with reporters.
An odd choice
Russians are a little bemused at all that fuss over surveillance. Many believe that the authorities can read their mail at will, listen in on their calls and sprinkle bugs around as they please.
“Wiretapping is so common, so this is not news,” said Alina Gorchakova, a 48-year-old account manager who stopped to chat on a city street.
What doesn’t seem normal to many is why Snowden decided to go to Ecuador, his original destination, through Russia. Once he arrived here, with his U.S. passport revoked, Ecuador has grown less enthusiastic. Russia says he can go anywhere he likes — he just needs a destination and authorized travel documents. So why doesn’t he go? Or show his face?
And Svetlana Chibisova, a 45-year-old tour agency manager, found it strange that an American carrying U.S. secrets would travel by way of Russia, where security agencies are very much in control.
“I don’t understand what he was thinking,” she said. “Is he a little boy with no idea about the consequences?”
Olga Prokopenko, 40, deputy director of a pharmaceutical company, said the Snowden affair sounded like a fairy tale. “How long will he have to stay in the transit zone? What is he eating there, and where does he sleep? Has anyone seen him at all? Strange.”
“I really wish he could be in some other transit zone,” she said, “because you never know what our authorities will do.”
Often, the television news doesn’t add up, said Yuri Artemiev, a 73-year-old retired aviation engineer.
“I don’t like this situation,” he said. “It looks like they wanted to get benefits from him being here and then something went wrong — as always.”
Snowden has become something of a ghost, said Igor Pavlenko, a 37-year-old sales manager.
“I am not at all sure that we are being told everything,” he said. “For example, as far as I know, he is in Sheremetyevo now. Okay, but maybe this is just one version. Have they shown us video or pictures of him in Sheremetyevo? No!”