Snowden’s book omits a key detail about his work

For more than three years, the Russian lawyer of exiled NSA leaker Edward Snowden told reporters that the former U.S. intelligence contractor held an IT job in the country.

“Edward Snowden will begin working in one of the biggest Russian companies,” Anatoly Kucherena, a prominent Kremlin-linked attorney who took on Snowden’s case pro bono, told reporters on Oct. 31, 2013. “His job will be to provide support and develop one of Russia’s biggest websites.”

Kucherena, who leads the public council overseeing the post-Soviet FSB intelligence service that was created by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2006, added the next day that Snowden "studied the labor code, what full-time and part-time work means,” before signing a contract.

In all, the lawyer mentioned Snowden’s job more than a dozen times between 2013 and 2017, according to an analysis of English-language and Russian media by Yahoo Finance.

But Snowden’s autobiography, an advance copy of which was reviewed by Yahoo Finance, makes no mention of the supposed IT job. And two former CIA officials who spoke with Yahoo Finance were skeptical of Kucherena’s claims.

Lawyer Anatoly Kucherena shows a picture of fugitive and former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden in refugee documents granted by Russia in 2013. (Photo: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

“My only sort of instinct is that [Kucherena] works for the security services and that's his talking point,” John Sipher, a former CIA station chief in Moscow and former head of the agency's Russia operations, told Yahoo Finance. ”He can't … say what he believes the truth is.”

Steven L. Hall, also a former chief of the CIA’s Russia operations, said that anything akin to a normal tech job for Snowden was unlikely.

“My assessment is that it would be very unusual, and I would say very doubtful, that the Russians would want to have him involved in anything like that,” Hall told Yahoo Finance. “Because they're very dark, and they're very counterintelligence-aware.”

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NSA former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden ponders as he participates via video link from Russia to a parliamentary hearing on the subject of 'Improving the protection of whistleblowers' on June 23, 2015, at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, northeastern France. Snowden, who has been granted asylum in Russia, is being sought by Washington which has branded him a hacker and a traitor who endangered lives by revealing the extent of the NSA spying program. AFP PHOTO / FREDERICK FLORIN (Photo credit should read FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 8: The former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor and leaker Edward Snowden's bust on display as a 'special guest project' in an annual collaborative exhibition called SEVEN at The Boiler, a Brooklyn art gallery, in New York on May 8, 2015. The bust was illegally installed in Brooklyns Fort Greene Park last month. (Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - AUGUST 06: Half ripped of flyer with a portrait of Edward Snowden and the request to grant him asylum on August 06, 2014, in Berlin, Germany. Edward Snowden came to international attention after disclosing to several media outlets thousands of classified documents that he acquired while working as an NSA contractor for Dell and Booz Allen Hamilton. (Photo by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images)***Local Caption***
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 11: General view of atmosphere at the Edward Snowden Interviewed by Jane Mayer at the MasterCard stage at SVA Theatre during The New Yorker Festival 2014 on October 11, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for The New Yorker)
DRESDEN, GERMANY - JANUARY 05: A sticker demanding asylum for whistleblower and former NSA worker Edward Snowden hangs stuck to a lamppost on January 5, 2015 in Dresden, Germany. Many Germans favour granting Snowden asylum in Germany following reports that the NSA has conducted extensive eavesrodpping operations in Germany and even listened in on the mobile phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden is shown on a livestream from Moscow during the Right Livelihood Award ceremony at the Swedish Parliament, in Stockholm, on December 1, 2014. Snowden was awarded the Right Livelihood Honorary Award 'for his courage and skill in revealing the unprecedented extent of state surveillance violating basic democratic processes and constitutional rights. The Right Livelihood Award was founded by journalist and professional philatelist Jakob von Uexkull in 1980. AFP PHOTO / TT NEWS AGENCY / Pontus Lundahl / SWEDEN OUT (Photo credit should read PONTUS LUNDAHL/AFP/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - DECEMBER 14: Former German Interior Minister Gerhard Baum speaks as former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden is seen on a video conference screen during an award ceremony for the Carl von Ossietzky journalism prize on December 14, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. Filmmaker Laura Poitras, Snowden and journalist Glenn Greenwald (the latter two in absentia) were awarded the prize by the International League for Human Rights for having 'put their personal freedom on the line to expose abuse of power' by Germany and the United States in their revelations of the extent of government surveillance on ordinary citizens in the name of 'national security' in the wake of terrorist attacks. The prize is named for journalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Ossietzky, who died from complications from being held as a dissident in a Nazi concentration camp. A bid to allow Snowden, who has temporary asylum in Moscow, to testify in Berlin before an NSA parliamentary inquiry is ongoing. (Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images)
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - SEPTEMBER 15: Edward Snowden, Internet Party leader Laila Harre, Robert Amsterdam, Glenn Greenwald and Kim Dotcom discuss the revelations about New Zealand's mass surveillance at Auckland Town Hall on September 15, 2014 in Auckland, New Zealand. The general election in New Zealand will be held this weekend, on 20 September 2014. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 10: NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden speaks via videoconference at 'A Virtual Conversation with Edward Snowden' during the 2014 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at Austin Convention Center on March 10, 2014 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Travis P Ball/Getty Images for SXSW)
Activists take part in a demonstration asking Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff (L) to grant Edward Snowden political asylum during the Expo Catadores 2013 at the Anhembi Pavilion in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on December 19, 2013. AFP PHOTO / Miguel SCHINCARIOL (Photo credit should read Miguel Schincariol/AFP/Getty Images)

Hall added that the Russians “would say, ‘Look, let's be safe rather than sorry. Let's keep him away from all of that stuff so that we can maintain positive control over him.’ So I think it's unlikely that he's legitimately working for a tech company in Russia, as I think Kucherena has indicated.”

Kucherena’s office previously told Yahoo Finance that he would discuss the inquiry about Snowden’s employment with Snowden and respond with any relevant information. The office did not respond to follow-up inquiries.

Snowden’s new book mentions Kucherena only briefly, noting that the lawyer helped him obtain asylum and “proved as adept at obtaining last-minute tickets to the opera as he is at navigating my legal issues.”

The scant detail about Kucherena belies the well-connected lawyer’s deep involvement in setting up Snowden’s life in Russia.

Snowden at the Bolshoi Theatre in 2014. (Photo: Russian media)

‘He’s planning to arrange his life here’

Edward Snowden captured the world’s attention in June 2013 after he allegedly removed more than 1.5 million classified U.S. documents while working as a contractor for the NSA in Hawaii and then flying to Hong Kong, providing an estimated 200,000 documents to American journalists, identifying himself in a video published by the Guardian, providing more documents to the South China Morning Post, meeting with Russian officials, and flying to Moscow with WikiLeaks advisor Sarah Harrison on June 23, 2013.

The reverberation of his leaks are still being felt in the U.S. government — Congress will soon decide whether to extend the problematic NSA domestic phone records program that Snowden exposed — despite the American starting a new life once he arrived on Russia soil.

Snowden and Harrison arrived at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport and were promptly escorted off the flight operated by Aeroflot, Russia’s largest airline and de facto national carrier. "They were getting luggage straight from the plane into the car. It seemed a little strange. I saw three pieces of luggage," an American Aeroflot passenger told AFP at the time.

A journalist shows a picture of Edward Snowden to airline passenger at the arrival gate of the Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow. (Photo: Asily Maximov/AFP/Getty Images)

"I saw about 20 Russian officials, supposedly FSB agents in suits, crowding around somebody in a restricted area of the airport," Olga Bychkova, a host from Radio Echo of Moscow, who was at the airport, told Foreign Policy at the time. "The Kremlin pretends they have nothing to do with him being stuck in Moscow, but in reality they're all over him."

The then-30-year-old American intelligence official and his WikiLeaks chaperone — Harrison said she was sent to Hong Kong to help Snowden because she “could essentially disappear and not be followed” — were said to be in the airport’s transit zone but were actually nowhere to be found.

“Putin, as a former KGB officer, is super-involved with security services, and a former FSB director such that they sort of control things,” said Sipher, who served in the CIA for 28 years and retired in 2014. “So there's no chance that a foreign person who is of damage to the West and worked in our most sensitive areas is not handled by, run by, totally under the control of the Secret Service or the FSB and others there.”

The rest of the world bubbled with intrigue for weeks about where the man who exposed damning domestic U.S. intelligence collection — as well as routine U.S. foreign intelligence collection — would go next. Snowden reappeared on July 12 at a press conference at the airport where he thanked countries that were supporting him and said he would seek asylum in Russia.

Edward Snowden meets with representatives of human rights groups and Russian officials at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport in July 2013. (Photo: Tanya Lokshina/Human Rights Watch)

“These nations, including Russia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador have my gratitude and respect for being the first to stand against human rights violations carried out by the powerful rather than the powerless,” Snowden stated before taking questions.

After the press conference, Kucherena offered his legal services and subsequently become the main source of information about Snowden’s new life.

“He’s planning to arrange his life here,” Kucherena, who served in the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces in Moldova and campaigned for Putin’s reelection in 2012, told Russian state media outlet RT on July 23, 2013. “He plans to get a job.”

Hall, who retired in 2015 after 30 years at the CIA, explained that Kucherena repeatedly mentioning Snowden’s job “sort of normalizes the situation and bolsters, I think, what I would refer to as the cover story. Or as the Russians would refer to it: the legend of how Snowden is living out his life.”

‘He is almost out of money’

On Aug. 1, 2013, Russia granted Snowden temporary asylum and Kucherena escorted Snowden out of the airport and to an undisclosed location. The lawyer, who claimed to be Snowden’s “only link with the outside world,” told reporters that Snowden was running out of money.

“He is not a rich person, and the money that he had he spent on food in the transit zone,” Kucherena told reporters (translated from Russian). “Of course he knows that going forward he has to work in order to live.”

Anatoly Kucherena, center, the Russian lawyer assisting Edward Snowden, enters a restricted area at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow. (Photo: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

Snowden had told journalists in Hong Kong that he withdrew “enough financial resources to survive on my own for years without anyone’s assistance.” But according to Kucherena, the former CIA technician was paying for bodyguards with his own money.

“So far, he has been paying them himself from the money he had,” Kucherena told RT when asked about the bodyguards in September 2013. “But … he is almost out of money.”

It’s unclear who provided security for Snowden. Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, who visited Snowden in October 2013, told Reuters that he had to pass through metal detectors and some kind of official Russian security detail protected Snowden.

Experts have long held that the FSB, which is responsible for Russia’s domestic security and counterintelligence, are heavily involved in the American’s ongoing asylum. In 2015, Kucherena said that Snowden lived under permanent protection. (Snowden’s memoir makes no mention of bodyguards.)

Snowden on a boat in 2013. (Photo: Russian media)

“[The Russian government] may be charging him or forcing him to hire a 'friendly' private security firm,” Mark Galeotti, a specialist on Russia’s security services currently at the Institute of International Relations in Prague, told Yahoo Finance in an email. “If he can't afford it, I doubt the Russians wouldn't protect him, because 'security' in this context is as much about controlling as guarding him.”

A few days after Kucherena announced Snowden’s job — declining to name the company "for security reasons” — he reiterated to reporters that the cost of Snowden’s living expenses meant that he was almost broke.

“The savings he had, he has almost entirely spent on food, rent, security, and so on,” Kucherena reiterated in November 2013.

‘He is a unique specialist; the company won't let him go’

The country’s largest internet companies denied that they had hired Snowden. VKontakte, the country’s largest social media company, declined to comment on the news after the founder had previously offered Snowden a job.

“Currently Edward tries to keep a low profile, and my offer was public: It could be a problem,” VKontakte founder Pavel Durov, who fled Russia the following year after allies of Putin took control of the social media website, told a conference in Berlin at the time.

In the years that followed, Kucherena repeatedly told journalists that Snowden worked in IT. (The Russian lawyer also sold the rights to his novel about Snowden to filmmaker Olivia Stone for $1 million.) However, no evidence has emerged to corroborate Kucherena’s assertions.

Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena at a presentation of his book “Time of the Octopus.” (Photo: Russia media)

In December 2014, Kucherena told Russian media that Snowden was “working as an IT consultant in one company.” In February 2015, Kucherena told reporters: "He has long worked for a Russian company. He is a unique specialist; the company won't let him go. ... His salary is commensurate with his skill level, so he has no problems making a living.” In March 2015, Kucherena said: "Edward is under protection, we take measures to ensure his safety. He is working and learning Russian.”

On June 23, 2015, the two-year anniversary of Snowden arriving in Russia, Kucherena stated: “Today he has now — if one can put it like this — settled in. … He is working in an IT company. We are not revealing this information, and it is understandable on what grounds. So today, I thank God, everything is fine. He is working. He is satisfied by the work he is doing.” In January 2017, while announcing a three-year extension to Snowden’s Russian residency permit, Kucherena said: "He has not broken the law, he has a permanent job, so there are no grounds to deny [the extension]."

Snowden’s main source of income in Russia, according to American lawyer Ben Wizner, came from being paid to speak to audiences via video chat. Snowden made more than $200,000 from speaking fees in 2015 and 2016, Yahoo News previously reported, including events at various American universities.

In Snowden’s memoir, he notes his work with Freedom of the Press Foundation as a board member and then as president/chairman. Tax documents show he draws no salary and worked an average of five hours or less per week for the nonprofit organization from 2014 to 2017. Amid a relative slowdown in digital speaking appearances, Snowden’s book likely provided him with a further source of income.

Edward Snowden's new memoir, "Permanent Record." (Photo: Macmillan Publishers)

‘He is a sort of ghost’

Snowden’s new book does not provide many details about his life in Russia, beyond stating that he lives in a two-bedroom apartment with his partner, Lindsay Mills, travels within Russia’s borders, and picks up Burger King.

And despite the world-famous American’s assertions that he rides “the subway like everybody else,” Snowden has rarely been photographed in public.

The only photographs of Snowden in public since he landed in Moscow were either published in 2013 and 2014 by Russian state media outlets or posted on Instagram by Mills (or, in another sighting, journalist Glenn Greenwald).

In his new book, Snowden recounts agreeing to being in a selfie taken by a young tourist at a museum in Moscow — and then immediately worrying that the photo would show up on social media. (It apparently never did.)

A man who looks like Edward Snowden pushing a shopping cart. (Photo: Russian media)

“He is a sort of ghost,” Russian investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov, who co-wrote definitive books on the post-Soviet security services and the history of the Russian internetsaid about Snowden’s new life as of November 2017. “It looks like he’s there, but since he’s banned from talking to Russian journalists or Moscow-based foreign journalists, … he speaks only to journalists coming specifically to interview him, so they are all approved [by the Russian government] in advance. So he is almost nowhere.”

Snowden writes in his memoir that he spends “a lot of time in front of the computer.” During some of the more than 200 digital appearances while in exile, Snowden has said that he primarily lives on the internet.

“I have to lay my head down in Moscow on a pillow at night,” he told an Israeli audience in November 2018, “but I live on the internet and every other city in the world.”

Snowden appears via connection from Russia during the Wired Next Fest 2019 in Milan, Italy. (Photo: Rosdiana Ciaravolo/Getty Images)

‘They can always run that stuff by him’

In the end, the veracity of Kucherena’s statements about his client’s purported job may not matter if the lawyerly assertions serve the interests of Russian authorities.

“What they want to do is continue with this fiction that somehow Snowden is ... a normal individual,” Hall said. And a Russian lawyer assigned to someone like Snowden, Sipher explained, would “lose their job and lose their ability to have clients if they did not work in concert with the FSB. ... it's impossible that [Kucherena is] not working directly for, or in concert with, the security services.”

The most important aspect of the situation to Kucherena, presumably, is Snowden’s value to his Russian hosts.

“He is a propaganda tool for them and a constant irritant to the United States and to the West,” Hall said. “The other thing is that he would be very useful to them if they have ongoing questions. If some new system pops up, or some new question arises that he had expertise in previously, they can always run that stuff by him.”

Michael is an editor and head of audience development at Yahoo Finance. Follow him @MichaelBKelley.

Listen to a new podcast about Snowden here.


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