The psychology of an international fugitive exposed by the guy who brought down Barings Bank, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden’s heart will be beating and his palms sweaty as he seeks to avoid arrest. Nick Leeson, the man who brought down Barings Bank and knows what it’s like to be the world’s most sought criminal, writes.

Journalists, diplomats, and his old employers at the US National Security Agency are all looking for Edward Snowden, who is holed up in the “transit zone” of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.

He is the target of a manhunt that is making headlines worldwide, just like I was for three or four days in February 1995. While I am uninterested in what Snowden is accused of doing, I do sympathize with his current situation. He’s getting on his nerves, frantically trying to figure out his options and make the best selections. His position contains so many unknowns that he won’t know what he’ll be doing in the next few hours, let alone what will happen in the following few days.

His choices are minimal.

The strain has been building for some time – since before he went – and his ability to govern his position has been dwindling. When he went on the run, whatever remaining control he had vanished nearly. You go from having a strategy, although one that is poorly thought out, to relying on others for help. On February 23, 1995, I left Singapore. The date is etched in my mind. Since the beginning of that year, the pressure had gradually increased, and more and more inquiries regarding my activities were being asked. I had become accustomed to being interrogated until the beginning of 1995. I believe I was primarily dismissing it since it wasn’t nearly as difficult as it should have been.

Even though the web of lies was expanding, I still felt in command. The day of reckoning was continually approaching, and while I was aware that the pressure was increasing, I had no idea when that day would arrive. Finally, the most basic questions regarding my business revealed a massive hole in the balance sheet and a significant concern. This is when pure animal instinct takes over, and self-preservation becomes the overriding priority, regardless of what else is going on. Anyone or anything in your way will almost certainly be trampled and pushed aside.

Edward Snowden international fugitive will have recently encountered this tipping point.

The time he decided to run and seek refuge elsewhere. With his history in security measures, you’d think he’d have planned for this, but the amount he did may have been overshadowed by the necessity to flee. I still thought I had weeks to address the situation until it happened. In my case, the call came at 3 p.m. on a Thursday, asking me to explain a mismatch between the holdings held at the exchange and those on the company’s books and records. I would have looked forward to the weekend at the time as a brief reprieve from the possibility of being discovered. Simply said, the beginning of the week was always the scariest because you just had five days to live. You were able to think about breathing more regularly at the conclusion of the week.

On the go

But by 4 p.m. that day, I was at home packing a suitcase and giving my wife a disconnected explanation for why we needed to go so quickly. We had emptied the safe. Then arrived at Changi airport by half-past four. Taking the only flight out of the country to Kuala Lumpur. The only thing on my mind was getting out of the nearby area.

This was the first of six airline trips I’d take over the next few days, and with each one, the strain would build, and the challenges I’d encounter would increase. Sleep came in stops and starts, usually as a result of complete weariness rather than any ability to recover regularly. The goal was to get out of the immediate jurisdiction and then meet up with a fellow trader in Phuket over the weekend to try to piece together and comprehend what had happened. But, within an hour of landing in Kuala Lumpur, that plan was abandoned because there were no planes to Phuket, so we went into hiding.

Malaysia and Singapore share a border

I was eager to get as far away as possible as quickly as possible. The only flight we could obtain was to Kota Kinabalu, still in Malaysia yet far away from an international flight. It was here that the tale of Barings Bank’s collapse broke. I went from being a very nondescript floor trader to the most wanted international fugitive on the planet at the time.

Returning a few calls to friends in Singapore whom I believed I could trust. I kept an eye on the news to gauge the magnitude of the losses and the consequences. Every news station promptly covered the story. We switched hotels within 24 hours, leaving the five-star Shangri-La and checking into a less conventional establishment.

Snowden’s escape

What would happen once we arrived was something I could deal with the next day. That was the plan’s breadth, and it’s easy to see parallels with Snowden’s escape. He’s reacting to what he sees in front of him and attempting to put himself in as much safety as possible as quickly as possible as he is now an international fugitive.

His journey was not well planned out because he would have sought refuge before boarding the plane. Flown straight there rather than arriving in Moscow in such a confusing fashion. Passing through border control at Kota Kinabalu airport was the next challenge for me.

They had to know where I was and that I was an international fugitive on the run and were on the lookout for my passport. As you approach the gate, your stomach is in knots, your head is throbbing, and your hands are clammy with sweat. It just won’t let up.

On the run

I staggered through the gate, unsure of where I was, and sat in the farthest corner I could locate. As the seconds and minutes ticked away until we could board the plane, my mind was occupied with the monotonous tick-tock of my watch. The first port of call was Brunei, where we were required to depart for an eight-hour layover. Brunei’s airport is a spherical structure with tentacles extending from it. Each gate had a CNN television set mounted above it. Every 15 minutes, the lead story was Nick Leeson, an international fugitive, and the fall of Barings Bank. The photos were old, yet it was unmistakably me. It was like being on a hallucinogenic trip: my face was everywhere, and everyone seemed to be staring at me. They weren’t, yet I couldn’t stay in this place any longer.

A hotel was located within the transit area; we rented a room for the eight-hour layover and never left it. The same televisions above the gates were showing my photo eight hours later, but the pictures were getting newer. My wife was on the verge of pushing me through the fence. My pulse was racing, and my blood pressure was probably at an all-time high.

Media

Two passengers were hidden in their seats, blankets up to their ears and baseball hats on their heads. 350 passengers eagerly read about the newest financial crisis. We couldn’t have been any less underground; in fact, we stood out like sore fingers.

Edward Snowden’s face will be gazing back at him from every angle. Everyone will be whispering in corners, and he will be paranoid that everyone is talking about him the international fugitive. Athletes must concentrate all of their energy into short periods when performing at their best. Snowden is currently sitting in Moscow and will be exerting himself at a comparable level every minute of every day. He’ll eventually seek clarification and assurance about what the future holds. I hope he worked through his plan far better than I ever did, but the end of this episode will provide him with a starting point.

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