Edward Snowden may not have chosen to go the route of fellow Espionage Act indictee Bradley Manning by releasing sensitive National Security Agency documents through WikiLeaks. Part of that, he said, was because he wanted every single page vetted—not everything was to be revealed at once, and he trusted The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald to do it.
But if the first act of Snowden's drama was to avoid WikiLeaks, the second that's now coming to light is just how much Snowden is reliant on the independent document clearinghouse.
WikiLeaks played a major role in helping Snowden evade detection once he left the United States. According to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the organization's legal team helped draft Snowden's asylum applications to Iceland, Ecuador, and "possibly to other countries," although on a conference call Monday, Assange wouldn't say which. WikiLeaks also paid for Snowden's travel and legal assistance in Hong Kong.
Assange says Wikileaks paid for Snowden's travel and attorney in Hong Kong "No government or private organization assisted."— Hunter Walker (@hunterw) June 24, 2013
"I instructed the organization to assist Mr. Snowden," Assange later added, "but I cannot go into further details at this stage."
Through a "well-connected" resident he had previously met on vacation there, Snowden was introduced to two local lawyers, Robert Tibbo and Jonathan Man. A third lawyer, Albert Ho, advised Snowden as well. Ho is a partner at one of Hong Kong's most powerful law firms.
Those services cannot have come cheaply. Nor does a next-day flight from Hong Kong to Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport, which costs over $700. Add in a ticket to Havana that wasn't even used, as well as the fact that Snowden was burning through between $200 and $700 of his personal cash every night in a luxury hotel for 22 days after he fled Hawaii, and the desperation of his dependence on WikiLeaks becomes clear.
Even if Snowden successfully evades capture, it's still unlikely he'll ever make enough money to compensate WikiLeaks for its help. But he could repay his benefactor in other ways. Asked whether WikiLeaks had acquired any of Snowden's classified documents for itself, Assange would only say that "of course" he would publish any files—if he had them.