In the New York Review of Books, I have been engaged in a debate with Edward Jay Epstein about his book, “How America Lost Its Secrets: Edward Snowden, the Man and the Theft,” which lays out the case that Snowden was an espionage source for the Russians or Chinese masquerading as a whistleblower. I wrote a very critical essay-review of this book, concluding that wherever one falls in the spectrum of views about Snowden’s actions, Epstein’s book is not credible because his methodology is to indulge in speculation and insinuations anchored to “facts” that are themselves dubious (and, as a separate matter, he gets all kinds of basic facts about surveillance wrong).
Anyway, one of the examples I selected to illustrate my argument was the heavy and sinister significance he puts on the “fact” that Snowden only checked into the Mira Hotel on June 1, 11 days after his arrival in Hong Kong, leaving his prior whereabouts in that city a mystery. Epstein’s reporting is the primary source of this claim – first in a June 2014 Wall Street Journal column, then in his book. He has also claimed that he has anonymous sources who told him that American investigators could find no hint in hotel and credit card records about where Snowden was staying earlier. In my review, I suggested that given the available information to date, this “fact” was vaporous. And after some further back and forth, I concluded:
Perhaps someday the Mira’s records will emerge into public view and we will have more solid information to evaluate this question. Either way, my central point remains unchanged: Epstein treated the check-in claim as a factual anchor for his insinuations about what Snowden might have been doing earlier, but at the time he wrote his book (and still today) the evidence for this claim was insufficient to establish it as a proven fact. This is part of a recurring pattern with his methodology.
Snowden’s Hong Kong lawyers have now finally obtained his hotel records, which Glenn Greenwald first reported at The Intercept and I have posted below. They show that Snowden checked into the Icon Hotel on May 20 and spent one night there, then moved to the Mira Hotel, where he checked in on May 21 until he checked out on June 10. (He was initially set to check out on May 31, but extended for one night to June 1, and then extended for another 10 days.)
I am not aware of anywhere that it has previously been reported that Snowden had stayed in a different hotel his first night in Hong Kong. But in any case, the documents showed he stayed in both the Icon and then, starting on May 21st, the Mira, under his own name, using his own credit cards. So there is no mystery gap, and the credit card records obviously were readily available to American investigators all along.
Origin and chain of custody of the documents
Greenwald got the documents from Snowden, who obtained them from his lawyers in Hong Kong. I reached out to Robert Tibbo, a barrister working for Snowden in Hong Kong, and showed them to him. He confirmed that they are the same ones that the two hotels had turned over, and that he had transmitted to Snowden. Specifically, he told me:
After lengthy efforts on behalf of Mr. Snowden, we were able to secure his hotel records from the ICON and Mira hotels in Hong Kong. I was present with Jonathan Man when the ICON hotel management printed out and handed Mr. Snowden’s hotel records to Jonathan Man. As for the Mira Hotel, their lawyers delivered Mr. Snowden’s hotel records directly to Mr. Man’s law firm. Mr. Man then brought the original documents to my law office to examine. All documents were then communicated to Mr. Snowden at that time.
Notably, Tibbo has also publicly said he witnessed Snowden destroy his hard drives before leaving for Russia, a corroboration of Snowden’s account that Epstein — who also treats as fact his claim that Snowden instead brought NSA files to Russia — omitted from his book even though he had interviewed Tibbo while researching it. Regarding the Mira issue, Tibbo also said:
With Mr. Snowden’s hotel records now obtained and disclosed to the public, this puts to rest any doubts on his residence in Hong Kong during the period of 20 May to 10 June 2013. I would highlight that in May 2014* I met with journalist and author Edward Epstein who I clearly told that Mr. Snowden was living at a hotel during his stay in Hong Kong from 20 May to 10 June 2013. He chose not to believe the truth.
* Note: Tibbo initially wrote May 2015 and later asked me correct his typo; the year is important since May 2014 was prior to Epstein’s original June 2014 column, not just his later book.