Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents about massive U.S. surveillance programs over a month ago, but he has yet to be captured by U.S. authorities. After evading extradition in Hong Kong, Snowden, who has been indicted under the Espionage Act, settled into the transit area of the Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow, where he is seeking temporary diplomatic asylum in Russia If the 30-year-old does manage to find permanent asylum, he may never be able to the return to the U.S., or many other countries, ever again. But that doesn't mean a lifetime of avoiding U.S. extradition is impossible. Here are five people who dodged U.S. capture for far longer than Snowden:
Julian Assange (1 year)
The Australian founder of WikiLeaks has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London — a diplomatic safe ground — for over a year, avoiding extradition by Sweden, and potentially the United States. Assange is wanted by Sweden for questioning related to sexual assault accusations that have been leveled against him. But Assange says that even if Sweden drops its extradition bid, he won't leave the embassy, because he claims there is a "99.97 percent chance" the U.S. would indict and extradite him on espionage charges. Ecuador and the U.K. are still working on finding a diplomatic solution to Assange's embassy stake-out, but in the meantime, he plans to continue releasing documents through WikiLeaks, because there is "nothing else to do" in the embassy "but work."
Richard O'Dwyer (2 years)
When O'Dwyer was a 19-year-old student at at Sheffield Hallam University in England, he programmed a website called TV Shack. The problem? The search engine aggregated links where web surfers could find pirated versions of their favorite TV shows and movies. In 2010, U.S. authorities shut down the site, and a year later, he was arrested in the U.K. at the request of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. O'Dwyer spent the next two years legally fighting efforts to extradite him back to the United States, and he won the support of Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, who called the felony charges against O'Dwyer "an outrage." In 2012, O'Dwyer avoided a potential 10-year prison sentence by paying a fine and signing a legal agreement promising that he wouldn't break any more laws.
Gary McKinnon (10 years)
McKinnon, who is Scottish, was an unemployed programmer when he was accused of hacking into a vast number of U.S. government computers shortly before and after September 11. It was, according to a U.S. attorney involved in the case, "the biggest military computer hack of all time." He was arrested in March 2002 for allegedly shutting down a military network made up of more than 2,000 computers, and rendering 300 other computers at a U.S. naval weapons station unusable. But McKinnon, who has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome and fessed up to the crime, claimed he did so because he was looking for evidence of UFOs:
What followed was a lengthy extradition battle between the United States and Britain, with Britain taking years to decide whether to send McKinnon to the U.S. to face these charges. In 2012, British Home Secretary Theresa May finally blocked the U.S. extradition request on the grounds that extraditing McKinnon would escalate his suicide risk to such a high degree it violated his human rights. He faces no charges in the U.K.
Roman Polanski (35 years)
Polanski is a French-Polish filmmaker known best for making acclaimed international films — but in 1977, he allegedly plied a 13-year-old girl with champagne and then forced her to have sex with him in actor Jack Nicholson's home in Los Angeles. Polanski pled guilty to having sex with a minor, and then escaped sentencing in the United States by fleeing to France the following year. In Europe, he spent more than three decades enjoying a high-profile career that included winning an academy award for directing The Pianist — but not coming to the U.S. to claim it. Polanski was finally arrested in 2009 by Swiss authorities, based on a 1978 warrant issued by the United States. But Switzerland ultimately denied the United States' extradition request, and Polanski remains a free man, although he must avoid countries likely to extradite him.
Robert Vesco (40 years)
Vesco was accused by American authorities of a host of crimes in the '70s: drug smuggling, stealing over $200 million from a Swiss bank account, and illegally donating to the 1972 Nixon campaign to avoid investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. He fled the United States in 1973 to avoid charges of fraud, and bopped around the Caribbean in countries with no extradition treaties with the United States before settling in Cuba, where he "became drinking buddies with leading members of the Castro regime," according to The Telegraph. Although Cuba refused to extradite Vesco back to the United States, Cuban authorities eventually arrested Vesco in 1995, for allegedly selling a drug that he claimed cured AIDS. Vesco died in 2007 in Cuba, even appearing to "die on the sly," since his death was never announced by Cuban officials, wrote The New York Times.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- After Ferguson: Stop deferring to the cops
- Ferguson riots were terrible — but this racist reaction was worse
- Why the poor can't catch a break on Thanksgiving
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- 10 things you need to know today: November 27, 2014
- The hilarious hypocrisy of Republicans complaining about the imperial presidency
- Obama just kneecapped Jeb Bush and Chris Christie's 2016 prospects
- Don't argue about politics this Thanksgiving. Just don't.
- In Ferguson, Michael Brown lost his life — and America's police lost the benefit of the doubt
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
Subscribe to the Week