June 18, 2013
The recent events surrounding Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower, gives us the chance to engage in an interesting thought experiment.
Where would you go if you were Edward Snowden (or Jason Bourne) and were being hunted by the most powerful intelligence agencies on the planet?
Now of course this is a farfetched scenario for most of us, which is why this is only a thought experiment. On the other hand, with folks like the Liberty Dollar founder (a gold/silver backed private currency) being labeled by the US government as “domestic terrorists,” maybe the situation isn’t so implausible.
An important criterion that we should look for in a country is whether or not it has an extradition treaty with the US.
An extradition treaty is a legal mechanism that countries use to transfer people to another country for numerous reasons. The terms and conditions of extradition treaties vary due to the circumstances of each individual case and also from country to country. Some countries (like France and Brazil) will not extradite their own citizens no matter what.
Generally speaking, in order for extradition to be successful, the suspected criminal act must not be political in nature, it must be recognized as a crime in both jurisdictions, and the suspect must not be in danger of receiving the death penalty or torture if transferred.
Absent a formal extradition treaty, transferring individuals becomes much more difficult but certainly not impossible.
|Countries with No US Extradition Treaty|
|Bhutan||Kuwait||São Tomé & Príncipe|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||Laos||Saudi Arabia|
|Central African Republic||Marshall Islands||Togo|
|Dem. Republic of the Congo||Mongolia||United Arab Emirates|
The following countries have extradition treaties but have shown that they will not always comply with US requests: Bolivia, Ecuador, Iceland, Nicaragua, Switzerland, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.
Hong Kong, the jurisdiction that Snowden chose, does indeed have an extradition treaty with the US. At this point, Snowden appears to be banking on avoiding extradition by seeking asylum and arguing that his so-called “crimes” are political in nature, while also positioning himself close to mainland China (which does not have an extradition treaty with the US).
Escaping to a non-extradition treaty country does not mean that you are home free, but rather will put you at the mercy of your new hosts. You could become a pawn in a larger game and traded away for concessions. The political sands are always shifting and tomorrow’s government may be more accommodative toward the US.
You could also be rendered (kidnapped) by the CIA and brought back to the US without the host government’s consent, or fall within the sights of an armed drone. There certainly is no shortage of ways for the US government to hurt you no matter where you are.
While a drone strike on Snowden in Chinese controlled territory is highly unlikely, some more realistic measures the US government will likely take include canceling Snowden’s US passport and cutting off access to his US bank accounts.
Snowden could have insulated himself from these measures had he taken the actionable and pragmatic steps we outlined in Going Global 2013 on the best countries to obtain a second passport, open an offshore financial account, and store some physical gold abroad.
Taking these steps are not just wise for the Edward Snowdens and Jason Bournes of the world, internationalizing is a completely legal and prudent strategy for anyone who does not want to be under the total control of the whims of one particular government – especially one that is desperate, bankrupt, and totally out of control.