If Edward J.
The 29-year-old Snowden has reportedly called America's spying capabilities "horrifying," but the post-bipolar world is a much less friendly place for those whose offenses might be considered treason, even in the cause of revolution. The old Cold War refuge standbys –
On the surface, the possibilities for holing up abroad appear bountiful, as dozens of countries have no extradition treaty with the United States, and some that do – Iceland, for instance -- have applied their own standards of justice in deciding whether to send a fugitive home to face criminal prosecution. France, for instance, has refused to extradite director Roman Polanski since he fled the United States in 1979 to duck prison time for having sex with a 13-year-old girl.
Russia, which eagerly welcomed defectors in the Soviet era, is still home to a few Americans who fled espionage charges or alleged repression. While Moscow's relationship with the United States remains fractious, the country isn't known to have extended the welcome mat to American fugitives for the last two decades. And today's Kremlin leadership, which prosecutes critics for far less serious political challenges, can hardly be called a champion of free speech and personal privacy.
Those who sought refuge in the Soviet Union, like spy suspects Edward Lee Howard of the CIA and
Cuba in the early years of its communist revolution was a magnet for radicals and leftists as hostile relations with Washington shielded dozens who fled from the reach of U.S. law. Financier Robert Vesco, hijacker William Lee Brent and former CIA case officer and spycraft novelist Philip Agee lived for years on the tropical island before their deaths in the last decade.
Convicted murderer and prison escapee
Cuba's changed attitude toward law-breakers over the years has also confronted former Black Panther William Potts with a life far removed from what he expected when he hijacked a Miami-bound plane with 56 people on board in 1984 and flew into Havana. He was prosecuted for hijacking, as required by a 1971 U.S.-Cuban agreement intended to deter what had become an epidemic of hijackings in the 1960s.
Potts served 13 years in prison and for the last four years has been trying to get permission to return to the United States. In an interview with CNN last month, Potts said he had been told by Cuban authorities that the Castro brothers had gotten out of the business of spreading armed revolution.
Namibia was the chosen refuge of
Venezuela has set itself up as Washington's No. 1 enemy in Latin America, protecting the anti-U.S. legacy of late President Hugo Chavez. But the two countries have an extradition treaty, and even if Caracas were to offer Snowden asylum now, any improvement in relations in the years to come could make that shelter a bargaining chip that Venezuelan authorities may have no qualms about cashing in.
Other countries with sufficiently acrimonious relations with the United States – North Korea, Iran, Syria, for example – are unlikely to be attractive to a 29-year-old who leaked state secrets. Nor would the governments want to be seen by their own citizens as condoning Snowden's renegade behavior.
Analysts and legal experts pondering Snowden’s best prospects for escaping U.S. justice have been pointing out that his last known refuge,
That leaves Iceland as a plausible option for Snowden, and even there his petition for asylum would probably be put to the test laid out in a 1951