At last word, Ed Snowden is still in the Moscow Airport, possibly getting a little stinky after two weeks of sponge baths in airport washrooms, probably dyspeptic after two weeks of airport meals, and probably reflecting on the watchword of international politics: countries don’t have friends, only interests.
Here’s a little speculation on how he got into this pickle.
It’s clear that he’d developed a political interest in electronic intelligence collection at some point, and he’s said that he moved over to Booz-Allen Hamilton specifically to get access to more and different information. As I’ve said elsewhere I suspect that he got into a system administrator position where he eventually got “system high” access — probably a UNIX system and he was a root user. This means that you have access to any file on a system, all powers are granted you — that’s why a root account is called the “superuser”. In secure systems it’s more complicated, but the fact is that maintaining a really secure system has a lot of annoyances and eventually someone ends up with really high privileges.
But what have we seen of that information? He’s told a bunch of stories to Glenn Greenwald, and he’s leaked the PRISM slides. But there wasn’t a lot of information on those PRISM slides that hadn’t been known before except for particular code names on particular programs; and in fact the slides, while marked TOP SECRET, have been redacted (look for unlabeled black blobs.)
Now, with the friends and interests point in mind, think about places Snowden might go for asylum. The big ones, Russia and China, and little ones like Ecuador (which has its own problems with Julian Assange cluttering up its guest rooms). I’m sure it is a big surprise to note that these places aren’t going to grant asylum out of the goodness of their hearts; they’re looking for a straight trade, a quid pro quo. Oh, Evo Morales in Ecuador might go for it just to poke the USA, but Russia and China know that there will be a string of annoyances following granting Snowden asylum and they have to balance those against what they get out of it.
This is where Snowden stepped on himself.