Edward Snowden’s situation is precarious. Right now, he is stuck in a Russian airport. He is a man of no country, because no country seems to want him. It’s a uniquely Orwellian scenario, one that Snowden himself likely never expected to be caught in. He felt that the information he had at his grasp needed to be free. Yet it almost appears as if he couldn’t fathom what an international situation that this data would cause him.
Former spies have chimed in on what they might have done in Snowden’s situation. The consensus seems to be that any sort of modern comfort most of us take for granted would be tossed out the proverbial window.
"That means [discarding] your phone, your computer, your bank accounts, passport, credit cards - absolutely anything that you had previously,” before going on the lam, says Charles Faddis, a former CIA operative.
No bank accounts? No credit cards? You’d have to use cash - or possibly bitcoin - in order to survive.
Had Snowden been more familiar with decentralized currencies, he might have been able to stay out of the eye of authorities. Although he would not have been able to do things like buy an airline ticket, that point would have been moot given his revoked passport.
There is an economy forming under the auspices of bitcoin. Many people desire a reasonable expectation of privacy, something that the banking status quo is against in order to comply with, you guessed it, the government.
Of course, there is one logistical problem to using bitcoins. You have to find people who will actually accept it for goods and services. This can be a difficult undertaking in the physical world, as there are many who own or transact in bitcoins that would rather remain private.
But according to LocalBitcoins, you can trade in bitcoins for Hong Kong dollars. In fact, using the physical transactions options available via LocalBitcoins you could move around pretty well if you had kept a nice stockpile of BTC.
Before telling anyone who he was, Snowden should have considered attending a Hong Kong-based Bitcoin Meetup, which has 103 members. That's just as many as the Washington DC-based bitcoin Meetup has, which means there is some traction for bitcoins in HK.
People have called into question Snowden’s decision to flee to Hong Kong at all. In reality, Hong Kong is a perfect fleeing spot for an American leaker unsure of his future: all you have to do is buy a flight there. There’s no need for a visa, as visitors with a US passport can arrive and stay for 90 days. And judging by Hong Kong’s statement about Snowden leaving, the cards were played right by the former CIA employee releasing information about the US spying on Hong Kong.
Convicted spy Christopher Boyce, who is spending 40 years in prison for selling secrets to Russia, recently told CNN that “Snowden is doomed”. Yet all indications are that Snowden, unlike Boyce, is not doing this to make money. He’s only attempting to break down the walls of the spy apparatus system that the United States has proliferated over the past decade.
Ultimately, Snowden’s apparent ideology mirrors that of proponents of the bitcoin ecosystem. Bitcoin doesn’t exist as a way to subvert the American way; it is there to supplement its ideals.
The desire is to prove that a better system exists, a better way of life. On the face of it, a government that continually prints money just cannot be healthy for the global economy. The markets are starting to show proof of that. You can see this where investors are pulling their money out of gold and government securities. It appears that despite quantitative easing, we could see signs of strain in the system once again.
Of course, strain is probably part of the daily condition for Edward Snowden right now. Could bitcoins have ultimately aided his predicament? It certainly wouldn’t have left a trail like a credit card or a bank record would, but it isn’t completely anonymous.
Nothing is anonymous anymore, except for spying. The Guardian has recently reported Snowden may be the last of the human spies because there will be little human involvement in spying at all in the future.
That’s an interesting argument given that it is people who create technology, and people that run it. How would it even be possible to spy without human involvement?
Anyone who has been a part of the bitcoin community knows that there is a human element to it, a hard belief in it. At least it is more believable than a lot of the things that the establishment wants people to hear.
The leader in news and information on cryptocurrency, digital assets and the future of money, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.