Snowden on his bitcoin holdings: 'I’m not at risk of going hungry'

In December 2013, journalist Barton Gellman interviewed Edward Snowden in Moscow and asked about his living conditions as a former U.S. intelligence official living in Putin's Russia.

“Unnecessary question,” Snowden responded, according to Gellman's book, "Dark Mirror," because Silicon Valley-based supporters had had sent him "enough bitcoins to live on until the f***ing sun dies."

At the time, the highly-volatile price of bitcoin had recently briefly surpassed $1,000 for the first time. It’s unclear how much bitcoin Snowden possessed or the average price-per-bitcoin of his holdings.

On October 27, 2022, with the price of bitcoin around $20,000, Decrypt Editor-in-Chief Dan Roberts asked Snowden: “So unless you sold all of it… Are you bitcoin rich these days? And, I think I read recently that you are working doing IT for a company there in Russia. Is that the case? And why do you need to work?”

Snowden, appearing via video for the wide-ranging interview at Camp Decrypt, laughed and replied: “So one thing I would say: Don’t trust everything that you read in the press. Secondly, that [bitcoin comment]… was a private comment that wasn’t meant to be published. But look, my advice is, as a privacy advocate: If anybody asks you what crypto you have, what you hold, the answer is: ‘What is crypto?’ But I’m not at risk of going hungry, certainly not this year. Let’s put it that way.”

Gellman did not respond to a request for comment about Snowden's assertion that the original bitcoin claim was off the record.

The U.S. government alleges that Snowden removed 1.5 million classified documents from U.S. systems in 2012 and 2013 while working as an NSA contractor in Hawaii before providing roughly 200,000 of those documents to journalists and eventually settling in Russia.

A torrent of disclosures stemming from the leaked documents exposed various aspects of America's post-9/11 surveillance practices, including both domestic dragnet programs and international espionage campaigns. Other aspects of the Snowden saga — such as the 39-year-old’s living conditions or the fate of documents not provided to journalists — remain unclear.

On August 1, 2013, the day that Russia officially approved Snowden’s request for asylum, prominent Kremlin-linked lawyer Anatoly Kucherena told reporters that Snowden would look to “build a new life in Russia." In the years that followed, Kucherena repeatedly told reporters that the former CIA technician held an IT job at an unnamed company.

Lawyer Anatoly Kucherena shows a picture of fugitive former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden in his new refugee documents granted by Russia during a news conference in Moscow August 1, 2013. Snowden slipped quietly out of the airport on Thursday after securing temporary asylum in Russia, ending more than a month in limbo in the transit area.  REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov (RUSSIA - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
Lawyer Anatoly Kucherena shows a picture of fugitive former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden in his new refugee documents granted by Russia during a news conference in Moscow August 1, 2013. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetovc

“Edward Snowden will begin working in one of the biggest Russian companies,” Kucherena, who took on the case pro bono and became Snowden’s primary spokesperson, announced on Oct. 31, 2013. “His job will be to provide support and develop one of Russia’s biggest websites.”

Kucherena's office hung up the phone when asked for comment. Camp Decrypt was the first time that Snowden, who recently became a Russian citizen, had been directly asked about purportedly having a job at a Russian tech company. Two former CIA officials previously expressed skepticism to Yahoo Finance when asked about Kucherena’s claims.

In any case, Snowden has multiple streams of income: In October 2014, he began giving paid speeches over video; between September 2015 and May 2020, he earned more than $1.2 million over 67 appearances; his 2019 memoir brought a $4 million advance; and in June 2021, Snowden launched a newsletter on Substack that costs $50-$150 per year for subscribers (though no paid posts have been published yet).

Snowden appearing at Camp Decrypt via video link on October 27, 2022. (screenshot/YouTube/Decrypt)
Snowden appearing at Camp Decrypt via video link on October 27, 2022. (screenshot/YouTube/Decrypt)

The Camp Decrypt appearance, for which Snowden was paid an undisclosed speaking fee, is an example of Snowden monetizing his status despite a 2020 court ruling that placed a permanent injunction on similar paid speeches and writings without authorization from his former government employers.

Snowden is also active on Twitter, where his account has amassed 5.5 million followers since joining in September 2015 and continues to opine on various topics — including bitcoin.

“There's still a lot of trouble ahead,” @Snowden recently tweeted as bitcoin’s price slumped after crypto exchange FTX collapsed, “but for the first time in a while I'm starting to feel the itch to scale back in.”

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Michael B. Kelley is an editor at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelBKelley.

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