The Ottumwa Courier

AP National

June 28, 2013

Trapped in Transit: Orwellian Moscow airport hotel

SHEREMETYEVO AIRPORT (AP) — "An interesting route, Mr. Phillips," says the airport transit desk employee. "This activity makes for suspicion."

It was the start of an Orwellian adventure in which I deliberately got myself sequestered in the hopes of finding Edward Snowden at Moscow's main airport.

The experience leaves me feeling that if the NSA leaker is indeed in the transit zone of the airport, as President Vladimir Putin claims, he may already have a taste of what it's like to be in prison.

Snowden is possibly holed up in the wing of an airport hotel reserved for travelers in transit who don't have visas to enter Russia. The Novotel's main building, located outside the airport, has a plush lobby with a fountain, a trendy bar and luxury shops. One wing, however, lies within the airport's transit zone — a kind of international limbo that is not officially Russian territory.

And that's where Snowden, whose U.S. passport has been revoked, may be hiding.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Eastern Europe News Director Ian Phillips flew from his home base of Prague in the Czech Republic to Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport with the goal of getting to the bottom of the mystery of America's most wanted fugitive: NSA leaker Edward Snowden. Here is his account of a surreal 21 hours.

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The woman at the transit desk raises an eyebrow and stares at my flight itinerary, which includes a 21-hour layover in Moscow before a connection to Ukraine. "Why would ANYONE stay here in transit for so long? There are so many earlier connections you could have taken. This is strange behavior."

After a nearly two-hour wait inside the terminal, a bus picks me up — only me — from the transit area. We drive slowly across the tarmac, through a barrier, past electronic gates covered in barbed wire and security cameras.

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