Internet Is Awash in Rumors That Edward Snowden Is on a Flight Over the Atlantic

Philip Bump
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Internet Is Awash in Rumors That Edward Snowden Is on a Flight Over the Atlantic

The Internet, which enjoys its conspiracy theories, is ablaze with speculation that an Aeroflot flight between Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport and Havana, Cuba, might be carrying a particularly interesting passenger: Edward Snowden. It's an idea is based on the thinnest of threads: a shift in the flight's normal route away from the United States—a shift that isn't that unusual, even for this week.

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When Aeroflot 150 made the trip on Tuesday, it looked like this, as mapped by FlightAware:

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Today, the route is distinctly different:

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The idea is this: An Aeroflot plane with Snowden aboard might do everything it could to avoid U.S. airspace. Despite Obama's pledge not to scramble planes to catch the NSA leaker, it does seem likely that planes would avoid tempting fate.

But today's path isn't that different from ones in the past. The same flight went this route on Monday:

Closer to shore, but still away from the United States.

There are any number of reasons that the plane might move further offshore. For example, there is a line of thunderstorms on the Eastern seaboard right now, which might bear avoidance. Or perhaps it's related to the remnants of Tropical Storm Chantal, which "EXTENDS FROM HISPANIOLA NORTHWARD TO THE SOUTHEASTERN AND CENTRAL BAHAMAS AND THE ADJACENT ATLANTIC," in the all-caps words of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

But there are so many other reasons this is unlikely. For one, as we detailed last week, most commercial flights would likely not take Snowden, given that he has no passport or (probably) entry papers for Cuba. Plus, it seems likely that a national airline, which pre-filed a passenger manifest and flight path, would be hard-pressed to keep Snowden's passage a secret. For another, as ABC News documented last week, Snowden probably would have been seen boarding the plane by one of the cadre of reporters camped out in the airport specifically hoping to catch a glimpse.

BuzzFeed's Rosie Gray spoke with the Guardian's Glenn Greenwald, the reporter closest to Snowden. He isn't buying it.

And then there's the last reason that this is unlikely. Go back up and look at the path of today's flight. Or, better, look at this zoomed-in version.

It goes over, in order: Belarus, Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Luxembourg, and France. Remember last week, when Bolivia complained that it had (sort of) been denied flyover privileges due to a similar rumor? If the plane were trying to avoid the U.S., why would it so casually fly over France?

In other words: This probably ain't Snowden. Or, then again, this may be what they want you to think. No good conspiracy theory need be beholden to evidence.

Photo: An Aeroflot plane at Sheremetyevo International Airport. (AP)