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The Rosett Report

Hiding Out in Hong Kong; How Do You Do That?

June 13th, 2013 - 7:02 pm

For days, we have been hearing that the leaker of National Security Agency surveillance secrets, Edward Snowden, is hiding out in Hong Kong. Or, to put it in a variety of other ways — all culled from the recent news — he has gone to ground, dropped out of sight, is in hiding, disappeared, vanished. Though he has somehow managed to continue giving interviews, from what the International Business Times describes as “a secret base” in Hong Kong. It sounds like a plot setup from that old master of spy thrillers, Eric Ambler — complete with the twist that a man who has just achieved world fame by exposing surveillance is now trying to stay in the spotlight without actually being spotted. And of course he has gone to ground, disappeared, vanished, in Hong Kong — a place I suspect is still vaguely linked in public imagination to the old romance of Asian ports, of Taipan, intrigue in the tea rooms, Suzie Wong in the bars and back alley mazes into which one can simply disappear (some of that accurate and some of it by now hallucinatory).

OK, whatever else this case is all about, if Snowden has genuinely dropped out of sight in Hong Kong, I am in awe. I lived in Hong Kong from 1986-1993, and have returned fairly often over the years since. There is plenty about modern Hong Kong that I most certainly do not know. But this much I do know. If there is one thing that is insanely difficult to do in Hong Kong, at least for a gweilo — to use the Cantonese word for folks of Snowden’s non-Cantonese ethnic origins — it is nearly impossible to truly drop out of sight.

For starters, Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated enclaves on the planet. With 7 million people packed into a relatively small area, the population density is on average about 6,540 persons per square mile. In its most densely populated district, Kwun Tong, the average is 54,530. That does not mean, however, that it is easy for someone like Snowden to get lost in the throng. According to Hong Kong government statistics, 93.6% of those people are of Chinese descent. Only 6.4% are foreign nationals, and of those, a scant 29,000 or so are Americans. In other words, if you are an American in Hong Kong, and people have reasons to be curious about you, it is very hard to hide in a crowd.

So, what about hunkering down in a windowless flat, or a place with curtains drawn, and whiling away the days without ever going out? Well, he’d still have to have gotten there. Even before we get to the basics that Hong Kong is a special autonomous region of the hack-happy surveillance realms of the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong is wired. It’s a city of cameras — traffic cameras, private security cameras, mobile phone cameras. Plus, try though you might to take a solitary stroll in the city shadows, with that many people crammed into that little space there just isn’t a lot of solitude. There’s almost always someone, sweeping a curb, shuttering a shop, taking an early morning delivery.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
Snowden isn't, certainly shouldn't be, the issue here. When a government becomes so overbearing that it sets to spying on it's own people like they were all subjects, if not criminals, it is not doing so on their behalf. The Stasi wasn't in East German and the NSA isn't in America.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
More than mysterious...indeed.
However, Americans dare not miss the forest from the trees. For whether he is a hero or a traitor, that is a question which can be debated, but is the least intrinsic one.
The fact of the matter is that America is turning into a police/surveillance state and that is unacceptable. Wildly dangerous too.
Consider: how is Obama's (vision for) America much different than Germany's in the run up to WW2? - http://adinakutnicki.com/2013/06/09/a-political-dissidents-list-dhs-insider-confirms-the-true-intent-of-nsas-spying-commentary-by-adina-kutnicki/
Besides, the NSA FAILED to thwart 9/11/01, even though they had the communications from Osama's safe house in Yemen, all the way to the plotters in US cities throughout the country. One of the cities included NSA's headquarters! In effect, they were hiding in plain sight, yet all the spying didn't stop them! What about Boston's jihad?? You get the point...so, targeted spying is efficacious, but a TOTAL sweep of American citizens, completely non American and useless - except for nefarious purposes.

Adina Kutnicki, Israel http://adinakutnicki.com/about/


44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
If there were justice in the world Snowden would be living in the White House and Obama would be in hiding.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (16)
All Comments   (16)
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Because Snowden defected to the Chinese? The Chinese are protecting him? (Snowden has already assisted the Chinese in claiming that the *real* hackers are Americans -- as I spit). (IMO given so little of what we know -- Snowden may have as much "love" for America as Obozo.)
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
What Claudia Rosett has written here is absolutely true. Every word, the overall tone is accurate. No place for a "foreigner" to hide.

When I lived there (1961-1967, in a small one bedroom flat on top floor of a three story detached house [!] in Kowloon Tong) I thought the Colony was claustrophobic and went out to the Repulse Bay Hotel, now long demolished as space is at such a premium, on weekdays to try to find some quiet away from the crowds, and the incessant noise of construction sites and the enormously powerful pile drivers shaking the earth all around in Kowloon.

At the time it was thought that the population was about six million, no one really knew....how could they?...this was the height of the refugee era.

I never returned. When I look now at those "glamourous" pictures of the HK side of the harbor at night, I think.....good grief!....they must be standing now on each others' shoulders in Central. You can barely make out the ridge line of the Peak because of the highrises. Terrible congestion, literally unbelievable, must be felt to be believed. Merely "seeing" isn't enough of an impact. [Hence, the many, many subdivided, windowless flats. Chungking Mansions in Tsimshatsui must be an absolute zoo right now, if it's still there.]

None of that during the 'sixties. The highest building then was the Bank of China, and then the Hong Kong Hilton was built, on slightly higher ground. One-up-man-ship was vital in Hong Kong, no doubt still is with "face" the sole determinant of status.....and just about everything else.

The hilarious part of the official grand opening of the HK Hilton was that the British flag was flown upside down on the rooftop flagpole, right there, for all of the Colony to see. I can't remember how long it was before some hapless Ameddican employee noticed; the Chinese with their wicked sense of humor wouldn't have told a soul.

Thanks for the memories, Claudia Rosett!

------It's my guess that Snowden is holed up with an American sympathizer expat over on Lantau or other outer island......but there even more conspicuous because of his looks, or rent paid by the left-wing Guardian and/or the Washington Post. He's going to need cash, lots and lots of cash.

I hope the smug, self centered, a**hole gets his fill of expat isolation...taking it upon himself to "set the record straight".

Aiiiyeeeaahh! Tsk tsk Tsk!
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
He said he didn't want to hide, but to be not silenced.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well I thought the choice of Hong Kong peculiar too, but because he doesn't obviously present like an idiot I think he may know things I don't know being in the business and all. Likewise he does not appear to be as narcissistic as Assange or as motivated by anti Americanism. Rightly or wrongly he appears to believe what he is doing is patriotic. In a similar vein he does not appear to be like a Kim Philby who was working for the communists all along. Yet, his choice of Hong Kong might easily just be a way to mask true motive. Or a dumb mistake given that I think it would be easier for the Chinese secret police to find him than all of Obama's horses and all of his men. ;-)
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Could have caught the boat to Macau. Maybe he was not in Hong Kong when he made the video. Maybe he is staying w/ Greenwalds hot-n-hunky brazilian lover down in Sao Paulo.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Snowden isn't, certainly shouldn't be, the issue here. When a government becomes so overbearing that it sets to spying on it's own people like they were all subjects, if not criminals, it is not doing so on their behalf. The Stasi wasn't in East German and the NSA isn't in America.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
MEEEEEooooooooWWWWWW! Hissss!
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
More than mysterious...indeed.
However, Americans dare not miss the forest from the trees. For whether he is a hero or a traitor, that is a question which can be debated, but is the least intrinsic one.
The fact of the matter is that America is turning into a police/surveillance state and that is unacceptable. Wildly dangerous too.
Consider: how is Obama's (vision for) America much different than Germany's in the run up to WW2? - http://adinakutnicki.com/2013/06/09/a-political-dissidents-list-dhs-insider-confirms-the-true-intent-of-nsas-spying-commentary-by-adina-kutnicki/
Besides, the NSA FAILED to thwart 9/11/01, even though they had the communications from Osama's safe house in Yemen, all the way to the plotters in US cities throughout the country. One of the cities included NSA's headquarters! In effect, they were hiding in plain sight, yet all the spying didn't stop them! What about Boston's jihad?? You get the point...so, targeted spying is efficacious, but a TOTAL sweep of American citizens, completely non American and useless - except for nefarious purposes.

Adina Kutnicki, Israel http://adinakutnicki.com/about/


44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
WHile I don't disagree with your analysis, still the more important point is this:


Useless or very useful, the danger of such a program dictates that it simply cannot be allowed.

We must not allow ourselves to get sidetracked into a discussion of how effective this program is at fighting terrorists or any other variety of threat.

43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
I thought it was a truism of how to hide out to always go to the big city because in desperation for their own privacy neighbors can live next door to each othe for twenty years and never learn each others' names none so blind as those who will not see, whereas out in the country for lack of excitement everyone pries into everyone else's business.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment

There is much more to Hong Kong than Kowloon or Hong Kong Island. It is very easy blending into Hong Kong if you know where to go.
Billionaires, politicians, celebrities, business leaders, pop in and out never being photographed or seen, following in their footsteps would be pretty easy.
Especially if you have access to the worlds most comprehensive database.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
I guess you've been to Hong Kong, too. But surely you've noticed that the regulars--the waiters, vendors, shopkeepers, cab drivers, clerks, security guards, front desk ladies, etc--know who's coming and going.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
If there were justice in the world Snowden would be living in the White House and Obama would be in hiding.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment

No, if justice ruled the world Obama would be swinging by his neck as a convicted traitor, alongside most of his cronies.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
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