In a world where your smartphone reports your movements back to Google or Apple, and your calls and voicemails are tapped by the NSA or the tabloids, disappearing might seem like an impossible task. However, help is at hand in the form of extradition laws (or lack thereof), cheap flights, and good old fashion jungles, deserts, and mountain ranges.
Hollywood’s dramaticized depiction of the American intelligence agencies, along with the recent highly-publicized efforts of whistle blowers Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, have perhaps led to a misconception over the effectiveness of the assorted government agencies tasked with spying on the rest of us. The reality is that some people do commit crimes, get away with it, and disappear forever. The fact that Osama Bin Laden managed to stay hidden for almost 10 years despite the trillions of dollars spent on the war on terror is a testament to age old effectiveness of the needle in a haystack.
Below is the list of ten of the possible destinations for the international American fugitive; each country has been chosen either for their lack of diplomatic relationships with the US, or because the country itself isn’t currently interested or able to track down individuals. We should note, of course, that this is intended as a light-hearted read – a hypothetical look at the Great Escape – and isn’t a suggestion that anyone up and runs away any time soon! We wouldn’t suggest it, especially given the notorious economic and political instability suffered by many of the nations.
The 1.5 million square kilometres of steppe filled by only 2.7 million Mongolians make this country the perfect place to disappear. With its unevenly enforced laws, and Police force which struggles with corruption, it is highly unlikely that the Mongolian government will come hunting for you, and even if they did with no extradition treaty with the US you’re unlikely to be returned to face whatever you’re running from.
If you decide to stay in the capital of Ulaanbaatar you’ll be able to take advantage of the usual western luxuries, as the city is currently enjoying an influx of large businesses due to recently discovered mineral deposits. If the worst comes to the worst and you find yourself back on the run, the Chinese border is a mere 200km away.
The best places in the world to hide out are those in chaotic conditions; governments and local law enforcements are focussed on bigger problems than one stray international fugitive. Western Sahara is one such place, having been under disputed rule for several decades.
The largely nomadic population (which is estimated to be as small as half a million people as a result of many of the natives emigrating to flee conflicts) is spread over 266,000 square kilometres, making the country one of the most sparsely populated areas in the world, and an ideal place to disappear into the wilderness.
In 1963 Brunei made the decision to remain a British dependency rather than join the Malaysian Federation. At the time this must’ve seemed odd, but in retrospect this was an extremely wily move. With its large reserves of oil and gas the now independent country now enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the world.
The country is ruled by the massively wealthy Sultan, who recently declared himself to be legally infallible. Like many dictators, Hassanal Bolkiah isn’t keen on the US meddling with his affairs, and as a result Brunei has no extradition relationship with America.
This thin island cradled between Florida and Venezuela has been an ongoing headache for the US since before the Missile Crisis. The Cuban government is happy to take in almost all of the wanted American criminals who make it to their shores, often going so far as to offer political asylum to high profile cases.
One of the most famous Black Panthers, Assata Shakur, who broke out of a New Jersey prison in 1979 and managed to make it to Cuba was offered asylum within the year. Shakur has spent the last two decades happily free despite a $1 million reward for assistance in her capture.
Hiding out in a country much larger than the US, whose government isn’t one to play ball with Western authorities, seems like the perfect idea. Which is probably why Edward Snowden decided to fly from Hong Kong to Russia’s Sheremetyevo airport. For some time he was forced to remain in the airport (he was offered refuge by Nicaragua, Bolivia and Venezuela but feared that the US might intercept his plane) but eventually Putin offered him a year’s temporary visa.
Unlike Assange, who is forced to remain cooped up in the Ecuadorian embassy (which costs the London Police force $16,000 a day), Snowden is allowed to move around Moscow relatively freely. If you’re a Western political fugitive, Russia seems like the place to be.
The past thirty years of conflict have made Afghanistan one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Although the peacekeeping forces are slowly improving the situation, there are still hundreds of assassinations and suicide attacks each year. It also remains the world’s most corrupt country, and the world’s largest source of refugees.
None of this is great for the local Afghan community, but for an international fugitive corruption and chaos is the perfect mixture for a disappearing act. Although there are an estimated 5 million expats living in Kabul and Afghanistan’s other major cities, it’d still be a good idea to fit in by brushing up on your Pashto and Dari, as well as on the customs of the Sunni branch of Islam (the followers of which constitute around 80% of the population).
If things don’t work out in Afghanistan, then its only a slip across the border to the more stable Iran, the seat of one of the world’s oldest civilisations and home to a significant proportion of the world’s natural gas and petroleum supplies.
Since the Iranian revolution the diplomatic ties with the US have been severed, meaning that extradition is highly unlikely. You’ll also be safe from the Israeli government, as Iran doesn’t recognise it as a state. Iran’s latest President, who came to power in August 2013, is striking an increasingly liberal pro-Western tone with talk of lifting the internet censorship, and extending civil rights.
Though he never quite made it to the country, Ecuador is currently playing host to one of the world’s most famous fugitives: Julian Assange, who’s currently residing inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, is avoiding extradition to Sweden.
In the ’70s the Ecuadorian government signed an extradition treaty with the U.S. – however, there are loopholes. Although at the time of writing Ecuador hadn’t yet signed off on Edward Snowden’s asylum application, the country had already supplied Snowden with temporary refugee papers that allowed him to buy his Cuban ticket after his U.S. passport was revoked recently. Ecuador is fairly unique in this area of the world, as most of the surrounding countries have good extradition relationships with the US (Mexico even has squads who are specially trained to chase down fugitives wanted in America).
France isn’t necessarily the best destination for all fugitives, as they will extradite some criminals but not other depending on the circumstances. If you’re fleeing from the death penalty, though, then the French are likely to offer you asylum; the benefit of this is that rather than hiding out in an Iranian mountain range, or the Ecuadorian jungle, you can set up your new life in Paris.
However, many criminals will be returned to the country seeking to prosecute them, particularly if the crime in question is relating to fraud. That said, Hollywood director Roman Polanski has managed to hide out in France since 1978 following the charge of sexual assault in the US. So, if you’re willing to take the gamble, France is one of the more comfortable options on this list.
The landlocked Kingdom of Bhutan is found at the end of the Himalayas in South Asia. In many respects it is an odd country. It is one of the last to introduce TV, is the only sovereign state to measure ‘Gross National Happiness’ and currently has no traffic lights.
What makes Bhutan ideal for anyone looking to get away from it all (or, with it all…) is the fact that along with Cuba it is the only non-war zone which has no extradition treaty with the US or UK. However, it’s worth bearing in mind the fact that it maintains informal contact through the UK and American embassies in New Delhi, and currently has Bhutanese honorary consulates in London and Washington, D.C.