dana liebelson

Dana Liebelson


Dana Liebelson is a reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. Her work also appears in Marie Claire and The Week. In her free time, she plays electric violin and bass in a punk band.

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8 Questions About Snowden's "Flight of Liberty"

| Wed Jul. 10, 2013 1:24 PM EDT

On Tuesday, WikiLeaks hinted that former NSA contractor Edward Snowden may soon begin his journey to a country willing to grant him asylum. The group tweeted cryptically that "the first phase of Snowden's 'Flight of Liberty' campaign will be launched" today. As of this afternoon, WikiLeaks has provided no additional information about what that entails. Here are eight questions we have about Snowden's "Flight of Liberty":

1. Where is Snowden going?
Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Bolivia have offered Snowden asylum. Venezuela looks like the most likely option, but it's unknown whether he has accepted any of the asylum offers he has received. Snowden applied for asylum in at least 21 countries, and several have still not publicly responded, including China and Cuba.

2. How will he get there?
As we reported yesterday, Snowden's best bet is a chartered plane, which can fly a route that will avoid crossing airspace belonging to the United States or one of its allies. However, Snowden could still risk flying to Venezuela, Bolivia, or Nicaragua commercially, or even go by boat. Of the boat option, former CIA analyst Allen Thomson says: "I don't think he'd go from St. Petersburg through the Baltic and out to the Atlantic, as that gets him too close to US-friendly territory. Leaving from Murmansk and then going down the Norwegian Sea, North Atlantic, and on to Caracas, maybe."

3. Will there be a movie on his flight?
If Snowden flies commercial to Latin America, he will have to take the Russian airline Aeroflot, where he can choose between these movies that are currently playing onboard: Stoker (review), Trance, Jack the Giant Slayer, War Horse, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and A Good Day to Die Hard (review).

4. Does Snowden speak Spanish?
It is unknown if Snowden speaks Spanish or another foreign language. His letter to the president of Ecuador requesting asylum was written in Spanish, but it's unclear if he wrote it.

5. Who is bankrolling Snowden's escape?
WikiLeaks has reportedly been helping Snowden out financially. But according to the Daily Beast, WikiLeaks raised only $90,000 in 2012—though the group has been receiving about $1,300 per day in donations since it began assisting Snowden. That's still not enough to cover the cost of a private jet. None of the countries who have offered Snowden asylum have said they would foot the bill for his transportation.

6. Where has he been all of this time in the airport?
According to the Washington Post, Snowden "has made himself lost for [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."

7. Have the Russians or the Chinese obtained information from Snowden's laptops?
Snowden is reportedly carrying numerous laptops. An unidentified official told the New York Times that China has hacked into Snowden's laptops and taken all of the contents, but Snowden told the Guardian this week that "I never gave any information to either government, and they never took anything from my laptops."

8. How far will the United States go to extradite him?
President Obama said recently that "we're not scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker" but Thomson, the ex-CIA analyst, notes he "sure wouldn't bet against" the idea of the United States going out of its way to ground a plane that flies over US airspace. 

"The Jester" Hacks Top Venezuelan Newspaper Over Snowden

| Tue Jul. 9, 2013 3:33 PM EDT

On Tuesday afternoon, the Edward Snowden-loathing hacker who calls himself "The Jester" hacked the website of one of Venezuela's top newspapers, El Nacional, in order to express his displeasure that the country's government has offered asylum to the former NSA contractor. In a letter posted on the paper's website, he asked Venezuela to "reconsider your stance on this small but volatile matter, before weird things start happening." 

The self-described "patriot" hacker, who has one of his computers on display in the International Spy Museum, is famous for launching cyberattacks against WikiLeaks and Al Qaeda-linked web sites. He identifies himself as a former soldier, and he denies working for a US government agency. In recent weeks, he has been busy targeting Snowden's allies. He has launched successful denial-of-service attacks on the website's of Bolivian vice president Álvaro García Linera and Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro. The hacker has vowed to target any country that offers asylum to Snowden, whom he calls "a traitor" who "has jeopardized all our lives."

On Tuesday, a Russian lawmaker tweeted that Snowden had accepted asylum in Venezuela, but WikiLeaks, which has been assisting the leaker, later denied that he had formally done so. The Jester tweeted out a link to his El Nacional hack at about 4:45 p.m. Eastern time. The Jester did not respond to requests for comment from Mother Jones. It's not clear why the Jester targeted El Nacional, which in the past has openly opposed former President Hugo Chavez, who hand-picked Nicolás Maduro.

Here's a screenshot of the Jester's hack, which appears to be a URL-injection hack, not viewable from the main website without the correct link:


Obama Administration Won't Comment on Ecuador Bugging Claim

| Wed Jul. 3, 2013 10:51 AM EDT

Update: Ecuador claims that the bug came from the Surveillance Group Limited, one of the largest private surveillance companies in the United Kingdom. Ecuador is asking the UK for help on further investigations. The company has denied the claim.

Ecuador's foreign minister Ricardo Patiño has claimed that a hidden microphone was recently found in the country's embassy in London, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is taking refuge. Patiño has yet to provide further details about the alleged bugging, but the AFP reports that he plans to publicly point the finger at the country he believes was involved on Wednesday. Obama administration officials tell Mother Jones they will not comment on Patiño's allegations or say whether the United States was involved in any bugging of the embassy. And a spokeswoman for the Ecuadorean Embassy in London says, "At the moment, there's nobody saying anything more." 

The allegations come at a tense moment, as the international intrigue involving Edward Snowden and Assange, who is assisting the former former National Security Agency contractor in his quest for asylum, increases. Recent reports based on documents leaked by Snowden reveal that the United States has bugged European Union diplomats in the United States and spied on members of the G20 summit in London.

In a statement (in Spanish) posted on the web site of Ecuador's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Patiño said: "We regret to say that this is another testament of the loss of ethics at the international level." He added, "We are infiltrated from all sides." 

The device was allegedly found in the office of ambassador Juan Falconi Puig during a routine sweep, according to AFP and the Australian newspaper the Age. Many sensitive discussions have taken place in the office, including conversations between Patiño and Assange. 

The allegations come as former Snowden seeks asylum in Ecuador—a request that the country says it will not consider unless Snowden manages to reach Ecuadorean territory. Ecuador also continues to shield Assange from extradition to Sweden, where he's wanted for questioning in connection with a sexual assault investigation. Last night WikiLeaks tweeted a comment on the alleged bugging and the news that a flight from Moscow carrying Bolivian president Evo Morales was diverted to Austria after several European countries refused to allow the jet cross their airspace, believing that Snowden might be on board: 

Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, says she has "no comment" on the incident. But she notes that the issue of who supposedly planted the bug "is a question for Ecuador." Asked if the US had any role in the bugging, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined comment. 

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