US whistleblower Edward Snowden and a network of lawyers and refugees who helped him hide in Hong Kong in 2013 provided never-before-heard details about his two weeks on the run in an article published Wednesday.
"They had a hundred chances to betray me while I was amongst them, and no one could have blamed them, given their precarious situations. But they never did," Snowden told Canadian newspaper the National Post.
"If not for their compassion, my story could have ended differently. They taught me, no matter who you are, no matter what you have, sometimes a little courage can change the course of history."
The article also cites lawyers who helped Snowden, as well as other Hong Kong residents who helped him flee a hotel room after he identified himself as the source behind the release of a trove of sensitive US government data on June 9, 2013.
That sparked two weeks of hiding Snowden in the homes of various people - most of them refugees themselves who risked deportation if it came to light that they had helped a fugitive - until he departed for a flight to Russia on June 23. He remains in Russia to this day.
The story follows Snowden from June 10-23, during which he shared tiny flats with refugees and their families, most of whom could speak little or no English and had no idea that the man they were harbouring was of any importance until they saw his face on a newspaper - usually one he had asked them to purchase for him.
"Nobody would dream that a man of such high profile would be placed among the most reviled people in Hong Kong," said Robert Tibbo, Snowden's lead lawyer in the city. "We put him in a place where no one would look."
Snowden said he was amazed at the ease with which the people took him in.
"Imagine the world's most wanted dissident brought to your door. Would you open it? They didn't even hesitate, and I'll always be grateful for that," he told the National Post.
His first stop was with Supun, a Sri Lankan refugee, who got a call from Tibbo on June 10, asking him to put Snowden up. That was followed by about a week of Snowden sending Supun out on food runs and Snowden's lawyers communicating with him via USB sticks hidden in sweets sent to the flat.
Snowden reportedly ate McDonald's food most of the time and determined not to leave the flat. Supun's wife, Nadeeka, said she had to force him to leave the bedroom to shower.
"I was in a mission-focused state of mind at that point," Snowden told the newspaper. "I wasn't bothered by the idea of rough living, but I was worried about accidentally dragging people down with me."
When police patrols near the apartment became too common, Snowden was spirited first to the flat of a Filipino asylum claimant named Vanessa and then to the home of another Sri Lankan, Ajith. Snowden gave a gift of 200 US dollars to each of his hosts as he departed their homes.
Snowden lived like that for 12 days. On the 13th day he moved to the flat of one of his lawyers, celebrated his birthday with pizza, and then got him on the plane to Russia the next day. He says Russia was not his planned destination, but that he got stuck there after US authorities invalidated his passport.
Snowden and some of his collaborators said a motivation for revealing the story now is because a movie, "Snowden," directed by Oliver Stone, is set for release Friday at the Toronto Film Festival.
According to the report, Snowden has given 1,000 US dollars to each of those who helped him, for fear that their lives may become difficult now that their identities will be made public by the film.
Laura Poitras, a journalist who filmed Snowden in his Hong Kong hotel in the days before he went underground, said she admired the people who helped Snowden.
"I think these are very brave, selfless people who did something extraordinary at a very difficult time and at enormous personal risk," the paper quoted her as saying.
The secrets Snowden released provided critical details about US espionage efforts, some of them targeting allies. He remains wanted by the United States, but has received long-term asylum in Russia.