Authors: Edward Snowden
At the center of the table sat an older man in a finer suit than the others, the white of his hair shining like a halo of authority. He gestured for Sarah and me to sit opposite him, with an authoritative sweep of the hand and a smile that marked him as a seasoned case officer, or whatever the term is for a CO’s Russian equivalent. Intelligence services the world over are full of such figures—dedicated actors who will try on different emotions until they get the response they want.
He cleared his throat and gave me, in decent English, what the CIA calls a cold pitch, which is basically an offer by a foreign intelligence service that can be summarized as “come and work for us.” In return for cooperation, the foreigners dangle favors, which can be anything from stacks of cash to a get-out-of-jail-free card for pretty much anything from fraud to murder. The catch, of course, is that the foreigners always expect something of equal or better value in exchange. That clear and unambiguous transaction, however, is never how it starts. Come to think of it, it’s funny that it’s called a cold pitch, because the person making it always starts warm, with grins, levity, and words of sympathy.
I knew I had to cut him off. If you don’t cut off a foreign in
telligence officer right away, it might not matter whether you ultimately reject their offer, because they can destroy your reputation simply by leaking a recording of you considering it. So as the man apologized for inconveniencing us, I imagined the hidden devices recording us, and tried to choose my words carefully.
“Listen, I understand who you are, and what this is,” I said. “Please let me be clear that I have no intention to cooperate with you. I’m not going to cooperate with any intelligence service. I mean no disrespect, but this isn’t going to be that kind of meeting. If you want to search my bag, it’s right here,” and I pointed to it under my chair. “But I promise you, there’s nothing in it that can help you.”
As I was speaking, the man’s face changed. He started to act wounded. “No, we would never do that,” he said. “Please believe me, we only want to help you.”
Sarah cleared her throat and jumped in. “That’s quite kind of you, but I hope you can understand that all we’d like is to make our connecting flight.”
For the briefest instant, the man’s feigned sorrow became irritation. “You are his lawyer?”
“I’m his legal adviser,” Sarah answered.
The man asked me, “So you are not coming to Russia to be in Russia?”
“And so may I ask where you are trying to go? What is your final destination?”
I said, “Quito, Ecuador, via Caracas, via Havana,” even though I knew that he already knew the answer. He certainly had a copy of our itinerary, since Sarah and I had traveled from Hong Kong on Aeroflot, the Russian flagship airline.
Up until this point, he and I had been reading from the same intelligence script, but now the conversation swerved. “You haven’t heard?” he said. He stood and looked at me like he was delivering the news of a death in the family. “I am afraid to inform you that your passport is invalid.”
I was so surprised, I just stuttered. “I’m sorry, but I—I don’t believe that.”
The man leaned over the table and said, “No, it is true. Believe me. It is the decision of your minister, John Kerry. Your passport has been canceled by your government, and the air services have been instructed not to allow you to travel.”
I was sure it was a trick, but I wasn’t quite sure to what purpose. “Give us a minute,” I said, but even before I could ask, Sarah had snatched her laptop out of her bag and was getting onto the airport Wi-Fi.
“Of course, you will check,” the man said, and he turned to his colleagues and chatted amiably to them in Russian, as if he had all the time in the world.
It was reported on every site Sarah looked at. After the news had broken that I’d left Hong Kong, the US State Department announced that it had canceled my passport. It had revoked my travel document while I was still in midair.
I was incredulous: my own government had trapped me in Russia. The State Department’s move might merely have been the result of bureaucratic proceduralism—when you’re trying to catch a fugitive, putting out an Interpol alert and canceling their passport is just standard operating procedure. But in the final accounting it was self-defeating, as it handed Russia a massive propaganda victory.
“It’s true,” said Sarah, with a shake of her head.
“So what will you do?” the man asked, and he walked around to our side of the table.
Before I could take the Ecuadorean safe conduct pass out of my pocket, Sarah said, “I’m so sorry, but I’m going to have to advise Mr. Snowden not to answer any more questions.”
The man pointed at me, and said, “You will come.”
He gestured me to follow him to the far end of the conference room, where there was a window. I went and stood next to him and looked. About three or four floors below was street level and
the largest media scrum I’ve ever seen, scads of reporters wielding cameras and mics.
It was an impressive show, perhaps choreographed by the FSB, perhaps not, most likely half and half. Almost everything in Russia is half and half. But at least now I knew why Sarah and I had been brought to this conference room in this lounge.
I went back to my chair but didn’t sit down again.
The man turned from the window to face me and said, “Life for a person in your situation can be very difficult without friends who can help.” He let the words linger.
Here it comes, I thought—the direct solicitation.
He said, “If there is some information, perhaps, some small thing you could share with us?”
“We’ll be okay on our own,” I said. Sarah stood up next to me.
The man sighed. He turned to mumble in Russian, and his comrades rose and filed out. “I hope you will not regret your decision,” he said to me. Then he gave a slight bow and made his own exit, just as a pair of officials from the airport administration entered.
I demanded to be allowed to go to the gate for the flight to Havana, but they ignored me. I finally reached into my pocket and brandished the Ecuadorean safe conduct pass, but they ignored that, too.
All told, we were trapped in the airport for a biblical forty days and forty nights. Over the course of those days, I applied to a total of twenty-seven countries for political asylum. Not a single one of them was willing to stand up to American pressure, with some countries refusing outright, and others declaring that they were unable to even consider my request until I arrived in their territory—a feat that was impossible. Ultimately, the only head of state that proved sympathetic to my cause was Burger King, who never denied me a Whopper (hold the tomato and onion).
Soon, my presence in the airport became a global spectacle. Eventually the Russians found it a nuisance. On July 1, the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, left another airport in Moscow, Vnu
kovo, in his Bolivian state plane after attending the annual GECF, or Gas Exporting Countries Forum. The US government, suspecting that I was onboard due to President Morales’s expressions of solidarity, pressured the governments of Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal to deny the plane access to their airspace, and succeeded in diverting it to Vienna, Austria. There it was grounded, searched, and only allowed to continue on its journey once no traces of me were found. This was a startling violation of sovereignty, which occasioned UN censure. The incident was an affront to Russia, which couldn’t guarantee a visiting head of state safe passage home. And it confirmed to Russia and to me that any flight that America suspected me of stowing away on ran the same risk of being diverted and grounded.
The Russian government must have decided that it would be better off without me and the media swarm clogging up the country’s major airport. On August 1 it granted me temporary asylum. Sarah and I were allowed to leave Sheremetyevo, but eventually only one of us would be heading home. Our time together served to bind us as friends for life. I will always be grateful for the weeks she spent by my side, for her integrity and her fortitude.
As far away from home as I was, my thoughts were consumed with Lindsay. I’ve been wary of telling her story—the story of what happened to her once I was gone: the FBI interrogations, the surveillance, the press attention, the online harassment, the confusion and pain, the anger and sadness. Finally, I realized that only Lindsay herself should be the person to recount that period. No one else has the experience, but more than that: no one else has the right. Luckily, Lindsay has kept a diary since adolescence, using it to record her life and draft her art. She has graciously agreed to let me include a few pages here. In the entries that follow, all names have been changed (except those of family), some typos fixed, and a few redactions made. Otherwise, this is how it was, from the moment that I left Hawaii.
Stopped in at K-Mart to get a lei. Trying to welcome Wendy with proper aloha spirit, but I’m pissed. Ed’s been planning his
mother’s visit for weeks. He’s the one who invited her. I was hoping he’d be there when I woke up this morning. On the drive back to Waipahu from the airport Wendy was worried. She’s not used to him having to go away on a moment’s notice. I tried to tell her this was usual. But it was usual when we lived overseas, not in Hawaii, and I can’t remember any other time that Ed was away and wasn’t in touch. We went to a nice dinner to distract ourselves and Wendy talked about how she thought Ed was on medical leave. It didn’t make any sense to her that he’d be called away for work while on medical leave. The moment we got home Wendy went to bed. I checked my phone and found I had three missed calls from an unknown number, and one missed call from a long foreign number, no voicemails. I Googled the long foreign number. Ed must be in Hong Kong.
Wendy was home all day alone, thoughts just running circles in her brain. I feel bad for her and can only console myself by thinking how Ed would handle having to entertain my own mother by himself. Over dinner, Wendy kept asking me about Ed’s health, which I guess is understandable, given her own history of epilepsy. She said she’s worried that he had another seizure, and then she started crying, and then I started crying. I’m just realizing that I’m worried too. But instead of epilepsy, I’m thinking, What if he’s off having an affair? Who is she? Just try and get through this visit and have a good time. Take a puddle jumper to the Big Island. To Kilauea, the volcano, as planned. Once Wendy goes back, reassess things.
Brought Wendy to the airport, to fly back to MD. She didn’t want to go back, but she has work. I took her as far as I could go and hugged her. I didn’t want to let go of the hug. Then she got in line for security. Came home to find Ed’s Skype status has changed to: “Sorry but it had to be done.” I don’t know when he changed it. Could’ve been today, could’ve been last month. I just checked on Skype and happened to notice it, and I’m crazy enough to think he’s sending me a message.
Woke up to a call from NSA Special Agent Megan Smith asking me to call her back about Ed. Still feeling sick with fever. I had to drop off my car at the autobody shop and Tod gave me a ride back on his Ducati. When we pulled onto the street I saw a white gov vehicle in the driveway and gov agents talking to our neighbors. I’ve never even met the neighbors. I don’t know why but my first instinct was to tell Tod to keep driving. I ducked my head down to pretend to look for something in my purse. We went to Starbucks, where Tod pointed out a newspaper, something about the NSA. I tried to read the headlines but my paranoia just ran wild. Is that why the white SUV was in my driveway? Is that the same SUV in the parking lot outside this Starbucks? Should I even be writing this stuff down? Went home again and the SUV was gone. Took some meds and realized I hadn’t eaten. In the middle of lunch, cops showed up at the kitchen window. Through the window, I could hear them radioing that someone was inside the residence. By someone they meant me. I opened the front door to two agents and an HPD
officer. They were frightening. The HPD officer searched through the house as Agent Smith asked me about Ed, who’d
been due back at work on May 31. The HPD officer said it was suspicious when a workplace reported someone missing before the person’s spouse or girlfriend did. He was looking at me like I killed Ed. He was looking around the house for his body. Agent Smith asked if she could see all the computers in the house and that made me angry. I told her she could get a warrant. They left the house but camped out on the corner.
San Diego, 6.8.2013
I got a little afraid that TSA wouldn’t let me leave the island. The TVs in the airport were all full of news about the NSA. Once onboard the plane, I emailed Agent Smith and the HPD Missing Persons’ detective that my grandma was having open heart surgery, requiring me to be off-island for a few weeks. The surgery isn’t scheduled until the end of the month and it’s in Florida, not San Diego, but this was the only excuse I could think of for getting to the mainland. It was a better excuse than saying, I just need to be with my best friend Sandra and also it’s her bday. When the wheels left the ground I fell into a momentary coma of relief. When I landed, I had a raging fever. Sandra picked me up. I hadn’t told her anything because my paranoia was off the charts, but she could tell that something was up, that I wasn’t just visiting her for her bday. She asked me if Ed and I had broken up. I answered maybe.
I got a phone call from Tiffany. She asked how I was doing and said she was worried about me. I didn’t understand. She got quiet. Then she asked if I’d seen the news. She told me Ed had made a video and was on the homepage of the Huffington Post. Sandra hooked up her laptop to the flatscreen. I calmly waited
for the 12-minute YouTube video to load. And then there he was. Real. Alive. I was shocked. He looked thin, but he sounded like his old self. The old Ed, confident and strong. Like how he was before this last tough year. This was the man I loved, not the cold distant ghost I’d recently been living with. Sandra hugged me and I didn’t know what to say. We stood in silence. We drove out to Sandra’s bday bbq, at her cousins’ house on this pretty hill south of the city, right on the Mexican border. Gorgeous place and I could barely see any of it. I was shutting down. Not knowing how to even begin to parse the situation. We arrived to friendly faces that had no clue what I was going through on the inside. Ed, what have you done? How can you come back from this? I was barely present for all the party small talk. My phone was blowing up with calls and texts. Dad. Mom. Wendy. Driving back up to San Diego from the bbq I drove Sandra’s cousin’s Durango, which Sandra needs this week to move. As we drove, a black gov SUV followed us and a police car pulled Sandra’s car over, which was the car I’d come in. I just kept driving the Durango, hoping I knew where I was going because my phone was already dead from all the calls.
I knew Eileen
was important in local politics, but I didn’t know she was also a fucking gangster. She’s been taking care of everything. While we were waiting for her contacts to recommend a lawyer, I got a call from the FBI. An agent named Chuck Landowski, who asked me what I was doing in San Diego. Eileen told me to hang up. The agent called back and I picked up, even though Eileen said I shouldn’t. Agent Chuck said he didn’t want to show up at the house unannounced, so he was just calling “out of courtesy” to tell us that agents were coming. This
sent Eileen into overdrive. She’s so goddamned tough, it’s amazing. She had me leave my phone at the house and we took her car and drove around to think. Eileen got a text from a friend of hers recommending a lawyer, a guy named Jerry Farber, and she handed me her phone and had me call him. A secretary picked up and I told her that my name was Lindsay Mills and I was the girlfriend of Edward Snowden and needed representation. The secretary said, “Oh, let me put you right through.” It was funny to hear the recognition in her voice.
Jerry picked up the phone and asked how he could help. I told him about the FBI calls and he asked for the agent’s name, so he could talk to the feds. While we waited to hear back from Jerry, Eileen suggested we go get burner phones, one to use with family and friends, one to use with Jerry. After the phones, Eileen asked which bank I kept my money at. We drove to the nearest branch and she had me withdraw all of my money immediately in case the feds froze my accounts. I went and took out all my life savings, split between cashier’s checks and cash. Eileen insisted I split the money like that and I just followed her instructions. The bank manager asked me what I needed all that cash for and I said, “Life.” I really wanted to say STFU, but I decided if I was polite I’d be forgettable. I was concerned that people were going to recognize me since they were showing my face alongside Ed’s on the news. When we got out of the bank I asked Eileen how she’d become such an expert at what to do when you’re in trouble. She told me, very chill, “You get to know these things, as a woman. Like, you always take the money out of the bank, when you’re getting a divorce.” We got some Vietnamese takeout and took it back to Eileen’s house and ate it on the floor in the upstairs hallway. Eileen and Sandra plugged in their hairdryers and kept them blowing to make noise, as we whispered to each other, just in case they were listening in on us.
Lawyer Jerry called and said we had to meet with the FBI today. Eileen drove us to his office, and on the way she noticed we were being followed. It made no sense. We were going to a meeting to talk to the feds but also the feds were behind us, two SUVs and a Honda Accord without plates. Eileen got the idea that maybe they weren’t the FBI. She thought that maybe they were some other agency or even a foreign government, trying to kidnap me. She started driving fast and erratically, trying to lose them, but every traffic light was turning red just when we approached it. I told her that she was being crazy, she had to slow down. There was a plainclothes agent by the door of Jerry’s building, he had gov written all over his face. We went up in the elevator and when the door opened, three men were waiting: two of them were agents, one of them was Jerry. He was the only man who shook hands with me. Jerry told Eileen that she couldn’t come with us to the conference room. He’d call her when we were finished. Eileen insisted that she’d wait. She sat in the lobby with an expression on her face like she was ready to wait for a million years. On the way to the conference room Jerry took me aside and said he’d negotiated “limited immunity,” which I said was pretty meaningless, and he didn’t disagree. He told me never to lie, and that when I didn’t know what to say, I should say IDK and let him talk. Agent Mike had a grin that was a bit too kind, while Agent Leland kept looking at me like I was an experiment and he was studying my reactions. Both of them creeped me out. They started with questions about me that were so basic, it was like they were just trying to show me that they already knew everything about me. Of course they did. That was Ed’s point. The gov always knows everything. They had me talk about the last two months, twice, and then when I was finished with the “timeline,” Agent Mike asked me to start all over again from the beginning. I said, “The beginning of what?” He said, “Tell me how you met.”
Coming out of the interrogation exhausted, late at night, with days of interrogations ahead of me. They wouldn’t tell me how many exactly. Eileen drove us to meet Sandra for dinner at some diner, and as we left Downtown we noticed we still had our tails. Eileen tried to lose them by speeding and making illegal U-turns again, and I begged her to stop. I thought her driving like that just made me look worse. It made me look suspicious. But Eileen is a stubborn mama bear. In the parking lot of the diner, Eileen banged on the windows of the surveillance vehicles and yelled that I was cooperating, so there was no reason for them to be following. It was a little embarrassing, like when your mother sticks up for you in school, but mostly I was just in awe. The nerve to go up to a vehicle with federal agents and tell them off. Sandra was at a table in the back and we ordered and talked about “media exposure.” I was all over the news.
Halfway through dinner, two men walked up to our table. One tall guy in a baseball hat, who had braces, and his partner who was dressed like a guy going clubbing. The tall guy identified himself as Agent Chuck, the agent who’d called me before. He asked to speak with me about “the driving behavior” once we’d finished eating. The moment he said that we decided we were finished. The agents were out in front of the diner. Agent Chuck showed his badge and told me that his main goal was my protection. He said there could be threats against my life. He tapped his jacket and said if there was any danger he would take care of it, because he was on “the armed team.” It was all such macho posturing or an attempt to get me to trust him, by putting me in a vulnerable position. He went on to say I was going to be surveilled/followed by the FBI 24/7, for the foreseeable future, and the reckless driving Eileen was doing would not be tolerated. He said agents are never supposed to talk to their assignments but he felt that, given the circumstances, he had to “take the team in this direction for everyone’s safety.”
He handed me a business card with his contact info and said he’d be parked just outside Eileen’s house all night, and I should call him if I needed him, or needed anything, for any reason. He told me I was free to go anywhere (you’re damn right, I thought), but that whenever I planned to go anywhere, I should text him. He said, “Open communication will make everything easier.” He said, “If you give us a heads-up, you’ll be that much safer, I promise.”
Haven’t written for days. I’m so angry that I have to take a deep breath and figure out who and what exactly I’m angry at, because it all just blurs together. Fucking Feds! Exhausting interrogations where they treat me like I’m guilty and follow me everywhere, but what’s worse is that they’ve broken my routine. Usually I’d tear off into the woods and shoot or write, but now I have a surveillance team audience wherever I go. It’s like by taking away my energy and time and desire to write, they took away the last little bit of privacy I had. I need to remember everything that’s happened. First they had me bring in my laptop and copied the hard drive. They probably put a bunch of bugs on it, too. Then they had copies of all my emails and chats printed out, and they were reading me things I wrote to Ed and things Ed wrote to me and demanding I explain them. The FBI thinks that everything’s a code. And sure, in a vacuum anyone’s messages look strange. But this is just how people who’ve been together for eight years communicate! They act like they’ve never been in a relationship! They were asking questions to try to emotionally exhaust me so that when we returned to “the timeline,” my answers would change. They won’t accept I know nothing. But still, we keep returning to “the timeline,” now with transcripts of all my emails and chats and my online calendar printed out in front of us.
I would expect that gov guys would understand that Ed was always secretive about his work and I had to accept this secrecy to be with him, but they don’t. They refuse to. After a while, I just broke down in tears, so the session ended early. Agent Mike and Agent Leland offered to give me a ride back to Eileen’s, and before I left, Jerry took me aside and said that the FBI seemed sympathetic. “They seem to have taken a liking to you, especially Mike.” He told me to be careful, though, about being too casual on the ride home. “Don’t answer any of their questions.” The moment we drove away Mike chimed in with, “I’m sure Jerry said not to answer any questions, but I only have a couple.” Once Mike got talking, he told me that the FBI office in San Diego had a bet. Apparently, the agents had a pool going to bet how long it would be before the media figured out my location. The winner would get a free martini. Later, Sandra said she had her doubts. “Knowing men,” she said, “the bet’s about something else.”