A Timeline of Edward Snowden & Associates (UPDATED)

Updated as of August 15, 2013. An impor­tant new pro­file of Laura Poitras in the New York Times Mag­a­zine by Peter Maass presents lots of new infor­ma­tion. It is worth read­ing in full, and will be ref­er­enced mul­ti­ple times here. I’ve also not tried to decon­flict the many times Green­wald claims he was “first” in touch with Snow­den — the dates can be any­where from Novem­ber of 2012 to Feb­ru­ary or April of 2013. In dif­fer­ent inter­views, he sug­gests dif­fer­ent dates, and I lack the means to deter­mine which one is true. This update also includes rev­e­la­tions that Snow­den may have begun steal­ing doc­u­ments from the NSA as early as April, 2012, while work­ing as a con­trac­tor with Dell.

Edward Snowden’s leak did not hap­pen in a vac­uum. He was helped by a net­work of asso­ciates, all with vary­ing ties to either Wik­ileaks or the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment (in some cases, both).

It’s easy to get caught up in the daily news and spec­u­la­tion about Edward Snow­den and his flight from Amer­ica to Rus­sia. But there has never been, as best I can tell, a time­line pub­lished of Snowden’s deci­sion to leak doc­u­ments and flee the coun­try, along with who helped him do it. I’ve assem­bled a first-round try at such a time­line here — it is sug­ges­tive of many things, includ­ing the unsa­vory nature of many of the char­ac­ters involved and a clear, long-standing involve­ment with Wik­ileaks (and their rela­tion­ship with the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment), but noth­ing is very con­clu­sive. As we learn more, it will be updated.

This time­line does not try to chart Snowden’s pre­vi­ous online activ­i­ties, but because of his close asso­ci­a­tion with Wik­ileaks after flee­ing the coun­try — and the com­pli­cated rela­tion­ship between Wik­ileaks and the gov­ern­ment of Rus­sia — that back­ground is included. This time­line is com­posed of pub­licly avail­able news sto­ries, videos, and other data high­light­ing both Snowden’s deci­sions and those of his asso­ciates. It is not a case for his guilt or inno­cence of any alleged crimes.

Snow­den (& Asso­ciates) Time­line: (zoom in on the time­line to get a clearer break­down of key events)


Octo­ber 26, 2010: Wik­ileaks founder Julian Assange tells pro-government Izves­tia: “We have [com­pro­mis­ing mate­ri­als] about Rus­sia, about your gov­ern­ment and businessmen,but not as much as we’d like… We will pub­lish these mate­ri­als soon.”

Novem­ber 2, 2010: An offi­cial at the Cen­ter for Infor­ma­tion Secu­rity of the FSB, Russia’s secret police, told the inde­pen­dent Russ­ian news web­site Life­News “It’s essen­tial to remem­ber that given the will and the rel­e­vant orders, [Wik­iLeaks] can be made inac­ces­si­ble forever.”

Decem­ber, 2010: Israel Shamir, a long-standing asso­ciate of Wik­ileaks trav­eled to Belarus, a close ally of Rus­sia, in Decem­ber with a cache of Wik­ileaks files. Belaruss­ian author­i­ties pub­lished the cables and cracked down, harshly, on pro-democracy activists.

Jan­u­ary, 2011: Accord­ing to a reporter for Kom­m­er­sant, Shamir offered to sell arti­cles based on the Wik­ileaks cables for $10,000 (£6,300). The Russ­ian Inter­fax news agency reported that Shamir was Wik­iLeaks’ “Russ­ian rep­re­sen­ta­tive”, and had “con­firmed the exis­tence of the Belarus dossier”.

April, 2012: For­mer intel­li­gence con­trac­tor Edward Snow­den began down­load­ing doc­u­ments describ­ing the U.S. government’s elec­tronic spy­ing pro­grams while he was work­ing for Dell Inc in April 2012, almost a year ear­lier than pre­vi­ously reported, accord­ing to U.S. offi­cials and other sources famil­iar with the matter.

April 17, 2012: Government-funded Russ­ian TV sta­tion RT gives Julian Assange his own talk show.

July 18, 2012: Wik­ileaks is reported to be near­ing bank­ruptcy due to a freeze-out by banks.

Late Novem­ber 2012:

Decem­ber 2012: Free­dom of the Press Foun­da­tion, which has Glenn Green­wald and doc­u­men­tary film­maker Laura Poitras on their board of direc­tors, announces their launch with the explicit pur­pose of fun­nel­ing money to Wikileaks.

Decem­ber 2012: Accord­ing to Glenn Green­wald, Edward Snow­den first emailed him, anony­mously. In an inter­view with Harpers, Green­wald says he ini­tially ignored the emails.

Jan­u­ary, 2013: Edward Snow­den con­tacted doc­u­men­tary film­maker Laura Poitras, accord­ing to an inter­view in Salon. Poitras notes her famil­iar­ity with encryp­tion meth­ods thanks to her close con­tact with Wik­ileaks for a pre­vi­ous film, and her involve­ment with TOR devel­oper and hacker Jacob Appel­baum (who was inves­ti­gated for his ties to Wik­ileaks in 2011).

February-May 2013: Snow­den exchanges emails with Green­wald and Poitras, accord­ing to the Wash­ing­ton Post, but does not reveal his identity.

March, 2013: Snow­den takes “infra­struc­ture ana­lyst” job at Booz Allen Hamil­ton for the explicit pur­pose of steal­ing doc­u­ments from the NSA, accord­ing to an inter­view he gave the South China Morn­ing Post.

April, 2013: Jacob Appel­baum goes on vaca­tion in Hawaii, accord­ing to a June 25 talk he gave in Berlin (approx­i­mately 25:30 into the video). He does not report hav­ing any con­tact with Snow­den. (H/T to @Libertylynx for find­ing that video).

May 1, 2013: A real estate agent in Hawaii says Snow­den and his girl­friend moved out of their house, but did not know where they went afterward.

May, 2013: Poitras and Appel­baum con­duct an inter­view via encrypted email with Snow­den, ask­ing detailed tech­ni­cal ques­tions to ensure Snow­den pos­sessed the skills and knowl­edge he claimed. Appel­baum says in an inter­view in Der Spiegel that he did not know Snowden’s iden­tity. Appel­baum does not release any fur­ther details about the con­tent of the tech­ni­cal discussion.

Early May, 2013: Snow­den “indi­rectly” con­tacts Bar­ton Gell­man (the mean­ing of “indi­rectly” is unclear), who begins work­ing on the PRISM story at the Wash­ing­ton Post.

May 16, 2013: Snow­den directly com­mu­ni­cates with Gell­man for the first time (the mean­ings of “direct” and “indi­rect” are unclear).

May 20, 2013: Snow­den flees Hawaii for Hong Kong, wind­ing up in the Mira Hotel.

May 24, 2013: Snow­den tells Gell­man of his desire to apply for asy­lum in Ice­land, then asks Gell­man to “pub­lish — within 72 hours — the full text of a Pow­er­Point pre­sen­ta­tion describ­ing PRISM.” When Gell­man balks, Snow­den appar­ently con­tacts Greenwald.

June 6, 2013: The Guardian pub­lishes the first in its ongo­ing cache of doc­u­ments pro­vided by Snowden.

June 9, 2013: The Guardian reveals Edward Snow­den as the source of the leaks and pub­lishes the first of two video inter­views with him. Snow­den says of his leak­ing: “I have no inten­tion of hid­ing who I am because I know I have done noth­ing wrong.”

June 10, 2013: Wik­ileaks founder Julian Assange praises Snow­den as a hero from the Ecuado­rian embassy in London.

June 10, 2013: Snow­den checks out of the Mira Hotel in Hong Kong, where­abouts unknown.

June 19, 2013: Assange says Wik­ileaks is giv­ing Snow­den legal coun­sel and help­ing him “bro­ker” asylum.

June 22, 2013: A New York Times story included “a per­son famil­iar with the case” say­ing Snow­den was stay­ing at an apart­ment under Hong Kong police pro­tec­tion. It is removed within 24 hours.

June 23, 2013: Snow­den leaves for Moscow. The Wall Street Jour­nal reports that Wik­ileaks advised Snow­den to leave Hong Kong; fear­ing a loss of inter­net access, he does. Wik­ileaks tweets that they “assisted Mr. Snowden’s polit­i­cal asy­lum in a demo­c­ra­tic coun­try.” A source tells the WSJ no Chi­nese offi­cials were involved in his depar­ture; a New York Times report dis­agrees. Izves­tia, a state-owned Russ­ian news­pa­per, writes that the Krem­lin and its intel­li­gence ser­vices col­lab­o­rated with Wik­ileaks to help Snow­den escape from Hong Kong (Wik­ileaks did not men­tion any offi­cial involve­ment in Snowden’s depar­ture from Hong Kong in their press statements).

June 26, 2013: Olga Bychkova, a host from radio Echo of Moscow, tells Anna Nemtsova, “I saw about 20 Russ­ian offi­cials, sup­pos­edly FSB [secu­rity ser­vice] agents in suits, crowd­ing around some­body in a restricted area of the air­port,” Bychkova told me. “The Krem­lin pre­tends they have noth­ing to do with him being stuck in Moscow, but in real­ity they’re all over him.”

June 28, 2013: The AP reports that the tran­sit hotel where Snow­den is stay­ing costs $300 per night.

July 4, 2013: Israel Shamir, a Wik­ileaks spokesman (Wik­ileaks denies this, but for­mer Wik­ileaks employ­ees insist he worked closely with Julian Assange. Shamir had ear­lier helped Belaruss­ian dic­ta­tor Alexandr Lukashenka oppress dis­si­dents with Wik­ileaks data, and was placed in charge of edit­ing Russian-language cables), praises Snow­den to Zav­tra, an anti-Semitic Russian-nationalist mag­a­zine edited by Alexan­der Prokhanov (whose own back­ground of com­mu­nism and anti-Semitism is worth not­ing).  Shamir favor­ably com­pares Snow­den to renowned British defec­tor Kim Philby.

July 9, 2013: Bernd Fix, a fundraiser for Wik­ileaks, says the group has gone from rais­ing €2,000 a month in 2012 to €1,000 a day, still below the group’s high of €30,000 a month in 2010.

July 12, 2013: Snow­den con­venes a press con­fer­ence in Moscow in con­junc­tion with Sherem­tyevo Air­port offi­cials, where he praises the human rights records of Rus­sia, Venezuela, and Ecuador, and announces his deci­sion to apply for asy­lum in Russia.

July 12, 2013: Snow­den calls Russ­ian lawyer Ana­toly Kucher­ena “by tele­phone” ask­ing for his help, the lawyer tells the AFP. Kucher­ena sits on the Pub­lic Coun­cil of the FSB (Russia’s suc­ces­sor to the KGB), whose 15 mem­bers must be approved by the FSB chief.

July 16, 2013: The Russ­ian gov­ern­ment offi­cially receives Snowden’s hand-written request for asylum.

July 22, 2013: An unver­i­fied report in RBK Daily says the regional head of the Union of Vet­er­ans of the Police and Secu­rity Ser­vices claims Snow­den requested assis­tance from them from an email whose IP was traced to North Car­olina. They report­edly offered him assis­tance, but Snowden’s lawyer has not pub­licly responded to their offer.

July 23, 2013: Snow­den tells state-owned media of his inten­tion to set­tle and find work in Russia.

July 24, 2013: Kucher­ena, the FSB lawyer assist­ing Snow­den, says he is respon­si­ble for man­ag­ing his money, pro­vid­ing books to read, and fresh clothes.


August 1, 2013: Snow­den is granted a 1-year tem­po­rary asy­lum by the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment. He is seen leav­ing the air­port with Sarah Har­ri­son, Wik­ileaks’ legal advi­sor, who says she stayed with him dur­ing his entire five-week stay in the air­port. Wik­ileaks also says Har­ri­son arranged for his exit from Hong Kong.  Wik­ileaks then thanks the Russ­ian peo­ple (and, implic­itly, gov­ern­ment) for help­ing them “win the bat­tle,” pre­sum­ably over Snow­den, and hop­ing then get to “win the war,” appar­ently on secrecy.

August 9, 2013: Wik­ileaks sets up the “Jour­nal­is­tic Source Pro­tec­tion Fund,” and claims to have imme­di­ately raised approx­i­mately $12,000 in its first week. Wik­ileaks also begins sell­ing Edward Snowden-brand t-shirts. They do not say whether pro­ceeds from the sales go to ben­e­fit Snowden.

August 12, 2013: Green­wald is found to be shop­ping around an exclu­sive TV inter­view with Snow­den, report­edly for $50,000.