What is Edward Snowden Still Concealing About Hong Kong?

Greenwald got the documents from Snowden, who obtained them from his lawyers in Hong Kong. 

— Charlie Savage

On March 21, 2017, a reporter named Charlie Savage published a piece on his website that has since piqued my curiosity. While it has been over two years since that publication, there are implicit questions posed by that piece which have yet to be discussed.

Within Savage’s piece, he reviewed purported records which were said to have come from the Mira Hotel. Charlie Savage recorded that “Greenwald got the documents from Snowden, who obtained them from his lawyers in Hong Kong.” Accordingly, Edward Snowden was the last person to touch a set of purported hotel records that Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept had received. Using those documents, Greenwald attempted to explain where Snowden and a large cache of state secrets had been located prior to June 1st, 2013.

In an interview with Glenn Greenwald on June 3, 2013, Snowden claimed to have stayed at the Mira Hotel following his arrival in Hong Kong. Over nearly four years, numerous journalists and writers had sought to verify Snowden’s account of his whereabouts following his departure from Hawaii with the state secrets he had taken with him. Jay Edward Epstein and a reporter for the Wall Street Journal made separate inquiries with the Mira Hotel and found that Snowden did not check in at that hotel until June 1, 2013.

The purported records that had last been handled by Snowden would contradict that reporting, if accurate. Using those records, Glenn Greenwald declared in the headline of a nearly 4,000 word article that “Newly Obtained Documents Prove: Key Claim of Snowden’s Accusers Is a Fraud.” If those records were not fraudulent, Glenn would be correct. However, if those documents were fraudulent, then the “key claim” of Snowden’s accusers would be even stronger.

For reference, both Charlie Savage and Glenn Greenwald have versions of these documents posted online. Upon careful examination, there are serious problems with these documents. There have been telling redactions and the records show that crucial details within the documents do not match.

fig. 1. P&A memo, p. 1

The first red flag was the redaction of the name that was written to the left of Mr. Jonathan Man’s name on page 1 of the Pang & Associates (P&A) memo. This memo was addressed to the lawyers that represent Snowden at Ho Tse Wai & Partners. Accordingly, the redacted name would be one of Snowden’s lawyers who had been involved in this matter.

The three page P&A memo contained multiple additional redactions. Upon comparing all redactions on every page in the Greenwald PDF file to those in the Savage PDF file, only the P&A redactions are identical. The signature blocks shown below are examples of the identical appearance of these redactions.

fig. 2. Greenwald P&A Memo Redaction
fig. 3. Savage P&A Memo Redaction

The redactions that are found within the remainder of these documents contain notable differences. The most notable difference is that Greenwald’s redactions are white while Savage’s are black.

fig 4. Greenwald Redaction
fig. 5. Savage Redaction

The identical redactions on the Pang & Associates documents show that those specific redactions were already in place before the files reached Greenwald. Therefore, the redaction of the name of one of Snowden’s lawyers was made prior to transmission and is indicative that said lawyer had their name excluded from these documents.

The means by which Greenwald received these documents also points to Snowden’s lawyers distancing themselves from these documents. The documents were transmitted from Hong Kong to Edward Snowden in Moscow and finally transmitted to Greenwald, as opposed to being directly transmitted from Snowden’s lawyers to Glenn Greenwald.

There are two additional redactions in the three-page P&A memo that are informative. Those are the redactions within the body of the memo and at the beginning of page 2. An inspection of page 1 and 2 reveals that the redaction that occurs on page 2 is obscuring item 2 on the provided list.

fig. 6. P&A memo, p. 1
fig. 7. P&A memo, p. 2

An examination of Personal Data Privacy Ordinance Cap 486, which would apply to this firm, makes it clear that Snowden’s lawyers would have to redact the personal information of a third party if the third party did not authorize the disclosure of that information. This ordinance would explain the purpose of those two redactions. The information for some person other than Snowden was involved in this record request.

fig. 8. P&A memo, p. 2

According to item 3(d), the initial stay at The Mira was listed as ‘Paid Out Voucher (No. 28328).’ Accommodation vouchers are a listed perk of MiraPlus memberships, per The Mira’s website. Several online searches for any mention of Snowden having a MiraPlus membership yielded no results.

In Greenwald’s article, he wrote that Snowden “paid for the room with his credit cards.” If, as Greenwald declared, these records reflect Snowden’s bookings with the Mira, then the above record contradicts the assertion that Snowden paid with his credit cards. Rather, the initial booking was paid with a voucher that Snowden would be unlikely to have.

fig. 9. P&A memo, p. 2

The final documented stay according to this memo (item 6) covered an 8 day period which occurred after ES checked out on the morning of the 10th of June. This record of a 4th stay does not match Snowden’s self-reported timeline. This record does not indicate that this booking was cancelled and item (c) shows that someone paid for this stay.

Related: Addendum I: What is Edward Snowden still Concealing about Hong Kong?

Setting aside the P&A memo, there are two types of documents in the remainder of Greenwald and Savage’s PDF files. Those are the ‘booking confirmation’ (BC) documents and the ‘information invoice’ (II) documents.

fig. 10. First Booking – Information Invoice

On the Information Invoice covering the purported first booking at The Mira, the room number is clearly missing. It would be unreasonable to believe that either Booking.com or The Mira Hotel would make this error or any of the many other errors which follow.

fig. 11. First Booking – Fax Header
fig. 12. Second Booking – Fax Header
fig. 13. Third Booking – Missing Fax Header

In figures 11 and 12, a fax header appears at the top of these booking confirmation documents. However, in fig. 13, the fax header is absent. In Glenn Greenwald’s pdf, this particular page has been cropped shorter than the others, thus removing this portion of the document which is clearly different than the others. However, by referring to Savage’s pdf, readers can see the full document and the missing fax header.

fig. 14. Glenn Greenwald Crop
fig. 15. Savage PDF Version

Roughly a third of the way down the BC documents under the ‘arrival and departure’ information block, there is a section which lists the number of adults and children. This section also lists the room type and the view.

fig. 16. First Booking – Room Type and Number of Guests
fig. 17. Second Booking – Room Type and Number of Guests
fig. 18. Third Booking – Room Type and Number of Guests

Flipping between these documents, the differences in the number of adults and children stand out. At the bottom of figure 16, the entry reflects the booking of “1 persons+1 children.” Figure 17 captures “2 persons,” while figure 18 documents the booking of “2 persons+1 children.” Edward Snowden never claimed to have brought a child with him to Hong Kong and the documentary CitizenFour does not reveal any children occupying that room with Snowden.

Per Greenwald’s article and numerous other publicly available reports, Snowden claimed he stayed in Room 1014 the entire time he was at The Mira.

However, the BC documents are for entirely different rooms. The room view changes between the documents, sometimes facing towards the park and on another occasion facing towards the city. These views are facing in the opposite directions, per The Mira’s website. In fact, there is a large courtyard in the center of the building which separates the rooms which face the park from the rooms facing the city.

The particulars of the room type changes, as well. During the second booking, the guests stayed in a club room, while the other BC documents reflect a regular room. The pricing which is listed near the middle of the documents verifies that the club room cost HK$ 2170 and a regular room was priced at HK$ 1680, with a price differential of HK$ 490 per night.

fig. 19. First Booking – Cost

fig. 20. Second Booking – Cost

It perhaps goes without saying but Room 1014 cannot be both a regular room and a club room.

Just above the room pricing, the BC documents specify which nights are covered during each booking. Comparing the third and fourth booking, the night of June 10th, 2013 is not covered. If this were Snowden’s extension, he would have no room for that night.

fig. 21. Third Booking – Coverage Dates

fig. 22. Fourth Booking – Coverage Dates

Two separate notes on each BC document spell out that reservations are non-refundable once booked.

fig. 23. Third Booking – Non-Refundable Note 1
(red arrow added by author)

fig. 24. Third Booking – Non-Refundable Note 2

Due to the incongruous booking date and the cancellation policy, this final booking ‘extension’ is unlikely to be Snowden’s. According to Greenwald’s article, Snowden left the Mira on the 10th of June.

These ‘information invoice’ and ‘booking confirmation’ documents contain substantial errors. They do not appear to be authentic records of Snowden’s whereabouts while in Hong Kong. Considering the redactions found in the Pang & Associates memo, it would be challenging to rule out that some or all of these documents originally reflected someone else’s stay at the Mira Hotel.

The CitizenFour documentary and other reporting substantiates that Snowden stayed in the Mira Hotel from June 1st through June 10th. No indisputable records exist which confirm where he was from May 21st through May 31st while in Hong Kong.

Prior to departing Hawaii, Snowden requested a couple weeks of leave from Booz Allen Hamilton. This leave provided cover for Snowden with his employer, such that they would be unlikely to inquire into his whereabouts during that time. However, he did not arrange his meeting with Greenwald and Laura Poitras to coincide with this leave. When reviewing Snowden’s timeline, this leave overlapped the period where he was in Hong Kong without reporters around. Thoroughly reviewing these documents and his timeline only raises more questions which may warrant further investigation.

Prior to this writing, I undertook a roughly 7,000 word analysis of these documents. This analysis included a variety of screen captures of portions of the documents to highlight the issues. If I receive at least ten requests for it by email, I will release an addendum to this piece which will further dive into this matter.

One final note I must add. Attempting to archive Glenn Greenwald’s writing on The Intercept results in a 404 error as of my latest attempt to archive his various work just prior to publishing. This has been an ongoing issue, one that I haven’t encountered with other journalists for various unrelated outlets. However, his article is published elsewhere and I have archived it on a few external drives.

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