Exclusive: SNOWDEN and ME. TRUE MOSCOW story of OPEN DATA HERO
But info fugitive cannot live on piroshki alone, tovarish
"Why a refrigerator? The answer does not, as some might assume, have anything to do with temperature. In fact, it does not matter particularly if the refrigerator was plugged in."
-The New York Times.
“Not piroshki again”, sighed Ed, picking wearily at the polystyrene tray. The greasy snack glistened under the harsh lights of the Sheremetyevo International Airport Transit Zone.
“Everyone loves doughnuts Ed,” I replied. “And a piroshki is just a doughnut with horse meat in it,” I said.
“AND MUSHROOM AND FINEST HERBS” boomed a voice, apparently from nowhere. This was spooky as there was nobody within 15 yards of us. I had a feeling we were being watched. And listened to.
Entrepreneur, investor, imagineer, internet policy visionary – I am all these things every day. But it was now time to pivot, not for the first time, to Mr Fix-It. Like Jules Winnfield in the movie Reservoir Dogs, I had again been summoned to an international crisis. And for once, it was an international crisis that The Bongster had not actually caused.
Ed had #guardiancoffee to thank for his predicament. Most of you are familiar with the data-driven Shoreditch coffee shop – but what isn’t so well known is that the outfit behind the venture also runs a blog – it’s kinda like the Huffington Post. And the blog had entrusted Ed’s travel arrangements to a spotty teenager with bottle-lens spectacles, who, after misinterpreting his own infographic, had diverted our hero onto the wrong flight.
The last thing Ed saw as the Aeroflot Tupolev Tu-134 lurched down the runway in a cloud of black smoke was the flaxen hair of top WikiLeaks spokesperson Brynhildur Brynhildurdóttir, as she waved a ticket to Ecuador forlornly from the Norman Foster Partners-designed departure lounge at Beijing International Airport.
Hundreds of millions of Twitter users across the globe had tracked the flight of the young fugitive in real-time as the Tupolev sailed high above the Mongolian steppes, their RTs forming a great silent prayer of information freedom.
This had been a huge publicity coup for Aeroflot. And that got me thinking.
“Your problems are over,” I told Ed as soon as I stepped off the Google Gulfstream at Sheremetyevo, introducing myself and my assistant มาลัย (which means "Garland of Flowers" in Thai).
“I’ve got an old pal who can get you out of this scrape in no time.”
I flipped out my prototype Apple iPhone 6 running the iOS 7 beta release with custom Gov 2.0 Remix Icon Theme and spoke into it slowly.
“Mickey. O. Leary.”
“Siri. Sees. You. Have. Seven-teen. Missed Appointments. And. Twelve. Missed Calls,” the phone replied. “Mikhail Gorbachev. Is. Not available.”
มาลัย handed me her Asha and soon a familiar Irish baritone voice was ringing out through the handset.
“Hey Steve, you old devil. How are you?”
“Well I’ve got a situation, Mickey,” I told him. “We’ve got a … a special passenger. Delicate. Can you help?”
“Sure. As long as he’s aware of that our surcharges are not negotiable, that shouldn’t be a problem,” promised the genial Irish airline chief, and hung up.
Two days later, here we all were. Still.
I was beginning to get the feeling that Ryan Air weren’t so keen on lifting us out of this ex-Soviet hellhole after all. O’Leary had been all promises, but when it came to getting Ed onto the plane, it was one glitch after another. They’d even managed to lose his laptop, and we hadn’t even taken off.
I was trying to maintain Ed’s spirits, but I could tell the frustration was getting to him.
“Confinement doesn’t mean you are confined, necessarily,” I told him. “Look at Jools [Assange]. Thanks to some Ecuadorian-French co-operation and a little tunnel work, Jools can hop on Eurostar any time he wants and indulge in his true passion, which is skiing.”
“You’re kidding me,” Ed replied, astonished.
“It's true. Assange was at Tignes twice last season and nobody spotted him. He even crossed the Alps into Klosters. He’s an albino, you see. He blends right in.”
Behind me the squeak of tiny wheels announced the arrival of what appeared to be an Airstream Travel Trailer, being pushed on a pallet single-handed by มาลัย. Behind her, two gigantic Russian assistants with shaved heads dressed in complementing pink and yellow suits looked bored.
“Just as you requested, Mr Snowden,” she said. “Smeg Ultravixen 5000 – world’s largest kitchen fridge.”
But just as I was musing, and not for the first time, on the astounding physical strength of my tiny Thai assistant, a warning bleep sounded from the prototype Apple iPad Mini Retina Display (Bono Edition) on my knee.
Things had just got a million times more serious.
Now I knew there was no time to lose. I jumped to my feet, and grabbed Ed roughly by the arm, causing the contents of his piroshki to spill over his "Open Rights Group: Protect Your Bits" T-shirt [Also available as underpants and boxer shorts].
“Get in. GET IN! NOW!!”
I threw the world’s most wanted information freedom fighter into the Smeg. Mindful of my last air incident, in which we had to eat some of the young entrepreneurs on our flight, I was better prepared. มาลัย had assembled an emergency pack.
“Ed, I’ve got everything we need to see us through. Scopolamine, DMT, a crate of really rather excellent craft IPA brewed back home in Shoreditch using only organic Cascade, Amarillo and Summit hops, and a six-pack of one litre bottles of Puyehue water. Oh, and the latest Cory Doctorow, just as you requested.”
The door slammed behind us.
“We may be some time.”
“Will we be stuck here forever, in this terrible tree?”
Ed was talking in his sleep, probably recalling an incident from childhood.
“Not much longer, old pal,” I whispered.
It was hard to say exactly how much time had elapsed. If a DMT trip lasting 15 minutes seems to last an afternoon, and one internet year is seven real years, and a cat has nine lives, then I calculated that we must have been in the fridge for … around about two days.
During that time, Ed had confided in me. He told me his story.
Ed had innocently enrolled in a superpower spying agency, as one does, but was shocked to discover that the public communications network, designed to be entirely open with no security whatsoever and that was used for sharing absolutely every intimate personal detail, was being watched. Sometimes the most intimate information we shared was even recorded. After several years of looking at all this personal information, the realisation struck him like a bombshell. It was Luluvise that had finally broken him.
Now all Ed wanted to do was flee for a country that didn’t digitally oppress its citizens.
“I want a country that truly respects real freedom – real digital freedom,” Ed told me. “Like Venezuela or Cuba or Ecuador. OK, they may arrest so-called dissidents, and Cuba may persecute its homosexuals, but their policy on DRM is quite clear, their commitment to liberalising out-dated intellectual property laws is strong and sincere - and they don’t intercept their kids’ SnapChats,” he explained. “If you’re going to host an unconference, that’s where you need to be.”
“When you think back to what the founding fathers, the inventors of the internet, people like John Perry Barlow and Professor Lawrence Lessig truly believed in - they wanted us to share, but they didn’t want anyone to watch us sharing except anyone who wanted to watch," he continued. "God, I despair of the USA. It’s finished.”
Just then, two taps and one loud KERLUNK resonated through our unlit but completely secure sanctuary. It was a signal – the all clear, at last.
We heaved open the fridge door and blinked in the dim Moscow sunlight.
“All gone,” มาลัย confirmed.
She held up her Asha and showed Ed and I a blurry video of what we’d missed.
The shaky footage scanned up and down a line of casually dressed Westerners. It was easy to spot the veteran investigative journalist John Pilger, chatting to media freedom fighter and Hacked Off supporter Jemima Khan. Was that ..? Yes, it was Channel 4’s Jon Snow joking with Hollywood star Sean Penn and Britain’s leading cyber-intellectual, Doctor Aleks Krotoski, PhD. And that whippet – that could only belong to the brilliant Oscar-winning film-maker Ken Loach.
Lending diplomatic support from the UK was Ambassador Ben Hammersley, and behind Ben was Billy Bragg and a modest crew of about 950 BBC News and Current Affairs production staff, looking bored. From the sudden surge for the piroshki counter, I could tell that Billy was about to start singing.
Miraculously, not one of the visitors looking for Ed had noticed the gigantic fridge parked in the middle of the Transit Zone.
“Where did they all go?” I asked มาลัย.
“It is Glastonbury weekend. Jemima has arranged a luxury yurt with some close friends including George Osborne, Hugh Grant and the little guy from Muse. They wouldn’t miss it for anything. The Stones are playing.”
It was a narrow escape - but it dawned on me that if I didn't get my skates on, I'd be missing the Stones too.
“Uh. Another piroshki, Ed?” I asked, gently pushing him towards the open Smeg door. ®
Steve Bong (official title: Lord Bong of #businessmodel) is the founder of Bong Ventures, an early stage investor and incubator focussing on innovative new technology start-ups based in Shoreditch, London. When he's not helping rear the next generation of business models, Steve enjoys parties, foreign travel, extreme cuisine, Open Data and draws his inspiration from Ayn Rand and His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. He advised (then hired) No.10 policy guru Rohan Silva on mindfulness and innovation, Mark Zuckerberg on the Perfect IPO, the Republic of Kazakhstan on emergent social media strategies, LOCOG on brand enforcement, and imagineered the Olympic Opening Ceremony with Danny Boyle, Shoreditch's #guardian coffee coffee shop with Jemima Kiss, and was the social media consultant for Lady Thatcher’s Funeral. At the personal invitation of Kim Jong Un, he is a strategic consultant on the Nextification of North Korea. Steve wants to pivot the BBC into the 22nd Century, blue-skying its hugely successful Digital Media Initiative, and advises the UK Government on icon design. He favours Small Government but Large Catapults.
Follow @BongVentures on Twitter for direct and disintermediated entrepreneurship, and boutique design-o-gnomics.
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