Where to go when the US government is after you

by | Sep 5, 2020 | Anonymous Travel, avoid arrest, Fugitive, live anonymously, New Identity, new life, travel anonymously, U.S. Government

I’ve heard Namibia is beautiful this time of year, especially when the US government is after you.

Extradition Concerns for Snowden

The US government hasn’t confirmed plans to extradite former CIA employee and PRISM leaker Edward Snowden to the United States. However, that doesn’t mean it won’t.

Snowden is currently hiding in Hong Kong, although it is unclear where he is in that large and sophisticated metropolis.

If you’re trying to hide and avoid extradition, Hong Kong isn’t the best place. It has an extradition treaty with the US and, despite being legally part of China, is a loyal US ally.

Both governments abide by a 1996 extradition deal. This deal allows US citizens living in Hong Kong to be deported if they are suspected of breaking US and Hong Kong laws.

Seeking Asylum in Hong Kong

There are exceptions. For example, a fugitive can seek sanctuary in Hong Kong to prevent deportation.

Asylum applications are accepted if the applicant is likely to suffer torture or the death penalty in the United States. They are also accepted if the offense is seen as political.

However, this is a long shot. The main issue is that Hong Kong is ostensibly under Chinese rule. China has the power to intervene and prevent Snowden’s extradition if they choose.

China is one of the few countries with which the US does not have an extradition treaty. It is also one of many countries with which the US government is not in open conflict. (It should be no surprise that North Korea and Iran also do not have extradition treaties with the US.)

Snowden appears to be aware that Hong Kong is not a safe haven for Americans.

“Those who believe I made a mistake by choosing Hong Kong are misinterpreting my goals. I’m not here to avoid justice; I’m here to expose criminality,” he explained in a recent interview with the South China Morning Post. He didn’t explain why he chose Hong Kong over any other city.

Countries to Consider for Hiding

There may come a point when you wish to flee your own country and never return. There will be no condemnation! Maybe judgments if you harm others, but let’s pretend you’re a peaceful breaker of some American law that Americans don’t particularly like, and you have to get out of dodge. Here’s where you should go.


China is one of the strangest cases in extradition law. The US and China have extensive trade and diplomatic relations of varying degrees of friendship. However, the Chinese have allegedly been attempting to hack various parts of the U.S. government for years.

In the same South China Morning Post interview, Snowden claimed that the US was repaying the favor.

The two superpowers still have no extradition treaties, which is surprising. China may have the best balance of being a friend and an opponent of the United States. It’s developed enough for you to blend in, but it’s also a threat because China is unlikely to ever hand you over to your own country.

Case Study: Gary McKinnon

Gary McKinnon, a British hacker who allegedly breached US military and NASA computers, faced extradition to the US. However, after a lengthy legal battle and public support, the UK government decided against extradition, citing human rights concerns. McKinnon’s case highlights how countries can protect their citizens from US prosecution, despite pressure from the US government.


After years of civil turmoil and essentially failed communism under Castro, Cuba had significant institutional difficulties. Still, the food is delicious, the architecture is stunning, the weather is perfect, it’s close by, and the government has no desire to collaborate with the US.

Despite having an extradition treaty with the United States, Cuba has a long history of hosting fugitives. One example is radical dissident Assata Shakur, who fled a murder accusation in the United States and has been living in Cuba for decades.

What’s the drawback? The thawing of relations between the two countries has resulted in Americans being permitted to visit Cuba (provided they jump through about a million hoops). If the U.S. government is pursuing you, it might not be such a secure haven for many more years.

Case Study: Assata Shakur

Assata Shakur, a former member of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army, was convicted of the murder of a New Jersey state trooper in 1973. She escaped from prison in 1979 and fled to Cuba, where she was granted political asylum. Shakur has lived in Cuba ever since. Despite US demands for her extradition, the Cuban government has refused to comply, demonstrating its reluctance to cooperate with US authorities.

Europe: As Long As You Did the Right Crime

Many countries, including several enjoyable ones in Europe, consider US punishments disproportionate and severe. Italy, France, Switzerland, and several other countries will not extradite if the death penalty is possible in the United States.

These countries will not extradite political offenders and are more likely to regard what Snowden committed as a political crime. (According to this NYTimes piece, Hong Kong does not consider it a political offense.)

Even if you aren’t facing the death penalty, most extradition treaties require that the alleged crime be illegal in the United States and the nation where the suspect is hiding. This rule is known as dual criminality.

Snowden, like the director (and, uh, rapist) Roman Polanski, might have claimed a place like Switzerland. He could argue that his crime was either not in violation of Swiss laws or that it counts as a political crime, and apply for asylum.

Most extradition treaties make an exception for suspects at risk of torture in their home country. These countries could be open to an argument that the last prominent American leaker, Bradley Manning, was undeniably tortured by the U.S. government.

Case Study: Roman Polanski

Roman Polanski, the acclaimed film director, fled to France in 1978 after pleading guilty to unlawful sex with a minor in the United States. France, which does not extradite its own citizens, has allowed Polanski to live and work freely, despite repeated US efforts to have him extradited. Polanski’s case underscores the potential for individuals to find refuge in countries with protective extradition laws.


Russia lacks an extradition treaty with the United States, and its constitution forbids them from returning foreign nationals. A Russian spokeswoman stated that if Snowden requested it, Russia would consider offering him refuge.

Someone like Snowden, who is in danger for disclosing information that his government doesn’t want the world to know, is unlikely to want to stay in a country like Russia or China. These countries are much harsher on traitors, dissidents, and leakers than the United States.

Case Study: Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden himself found temporary refuge in Russia after leaking classified information about the US government’s surveillance programs. Russia granted him asylum in 2013, and he has lived there since. Snowden’s case illustrates how individuals can find protection in countries that do not have extradition treaties with the United States.

Don’t Worry About Iceland

Iceland has a well-deserved reputation as a haven for dissidents. It is known to support Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, and it’s one of just a few countries with an actual Pirate Party representative. Indeed, an Icelands Pirate Party member has urged Snowden to seek asylum in the country.

Unfortunately, Iceland’s Pirate Party is a small minority party. The rest of the country does not appear eager to grant sanctuary to someone the US wants. The Washington Post looked into why and discovered that Iceland’s government has recently shifted to the right. They may not want to enrage the U.S. government.

Case Study: Bobby Fischer

Chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer, who faced legal troubles in the United States, found refuge in Iceland. In 2004, Iceland granted Fischer citizenship after he was detained in Japan and faced extradition to the US. Fischer lived in Iceland until his death in 2008. This shows how the country has provided sanctuary to individuals seeking to escape US legal issues.


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