The ever-expanding National Security Agency PRISM scandal has raised a host of philosophical questions about government, freedom and privacy. But one question has been on many people's minds that has less to do with big ideas and more to do with practical ones: How did self-confessed leaker/whistleblower Edward Snowden think he was going to escape prosecution by Uncle Sam after he revealed details of the secret government surveillance program?
The answer, apparently, was by fleeing to a country with no extradition treaty with the United States: The former CIA employee and NSA contractor is currently hiding out in Hong Kong. But the ex-intelligence man would have been smart to do a little more research before going on the lam: Hong Kong may not be quite the sanctuary he'd hoped for.
In some ways, Hong Kong is a great place to hide out. While technically, it has an extradition agreement with the U.S., the treaty was signed in 1996, a year before Great Britain transferred control of Hong Kong to China. Since the U.S. doesn't have an extradition agreement with China, it's possible that Snowden may be able to stay there. Certainly, it's a better bet than his original destination, Iceland, a country that has an unambiguous extradition pact with the U.S.
In the grand scheme of things, however, Snowden would have been better served heading to a country with a more clear-cut non-extradition policy. Unfortunately, most countries that refuse to cooperate with the U.S. government are Communist dictatorships, theocracies, failed states, or are otherwise less than ideal. But there are a few hidden gems among them.
In 2010, during the heyday of the post-financial crash Wall Street witch hunt, I compiled a list of the most attractive places to flee to if you happened to be, for example, a Goldman Sachs employee with a few bags of money and a desire to avoid subpoenas or possible criminal charges. Three years later, the list is still worth a peek, especially if you happen to be a U.S. government whistleblower who doesn't want to spend the rest of his days in Fort Leavenworth.
Here are the highlights:
The 5 Best Countries With No Extradition
Know where to run to: The 5 best countries with no extradition
With a per-capita GDP of over $17,000, Croatia occupies that sweet spot between places that are too poor to be safe and too expensive to be enjoyable. Your dollars will go a long way here, and with miles of beaches, remote castles, extensive caves and uninhabited islands, the formerly war-torn republic has endless options for your next home. While a little lacking in nightlife, Croatia's extensive diving, caving and hiking opportunities make it ideal for outdoorsmen, and its stable government and parliamentary republic promise that your property -- and life -- should be well protected by the rule of law.
A Trekker with a pocketful of dough could hardly do better than Kazakhstan. While it has a variety of terrain, the country is particularly famous for the steppes, a windblown grassland where the descendants of the Khans drink fermented mare's milk and practice Khyz Kuu, a traditional sport that involves chasing down maidens while on horseback. As for cities, the capital, Astana, halves the distance between Mongol and Klingon culture, with breathtaking buildings that seem to have jumped off the cover of a Ray Bradbury novel.
Widely regarded as the Las Vegas of the Persian Gulf, Dubai's gorgeous buildings, vibrant nightlife and collection of private islands make it the perfect escape for the rich man with questionable morals and a healthy disdain for hoi polloi. And, if you're looking for something a little more sedate, lesser-known Abu Dhabi is just a short ride away. Whichever way you go, the United Arab Emirates is a good deal right now -- property values tumbled during the recession but are rising again, and the country's extensive infrastructure and commercial development guarantee you easy access to most of the pleasures of home.
Most experts view Western Sahara as the world's longest-running failed nation, but we'd prefer to think of it as the world's most functional anarchy. Morocco is ostensibly in charge of the place, but the truth is that Western Sahara basically occupies 103,000 square miles of empty, unpoliced space between Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria. Only 600 miles (as the crow flies) from Europe, it's a convenient staging ground for any dastardly plans you might want to cultivate. Infrastructure is rare to nonexistent, but a few billion dollars should easily fix that, and the lack of state-level oversight means that you won't have to deal with zoning issues when building your secret hideout.
Bhutan hasn't made much of a blip on the international tourism radar, but the Asian "constitutional democratic monarchy," may be the perfect choice for the stressed-out criminal looking to get away from it all. Rejecting standard measures of success like GDP and tax revenue, Bhutan has chosen to focus its efforts on improving "Gross National Happiness." Among other things, this means tourism development is heavily restricted, so your sense of internal well-being is less likely to be disturbed by the sight of high-rise hotels or the buzz of snowmobiles!