There are few better settings for an international spy thriller than the chaotic, neon-lit streets of Kowloon, to the north of Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour.In the early 1970s, Kowloon’s triad-infested back-alleys played host to Roger Moore’s James Bond who used the area as the backdrop for The Man With the Golden Gun.
The Mira hotel’s rooms were conceived by Colin Cowie, a South African “lifestyle guru” and interior designer, and on its eleventh floor is Cuisine Cuisine, an award-winning restaurant where specialties include braised birds nests, South African abalone and sturgeon caviar.
On Monday, Kowloon was plunged once again into the midst of a global intrigue involving spooks and spies.
For it was here that Edward Snowden, the CIA worker-turned-whistleblower, made his temporary Asian hide-out, holing himself up inside one of Hong Kong’s chicest design hotels as the world absorbed his revelations about the National Security Agency’s mammoth electronic intelligence gathering operations.
On Monday afternoon two employees at Hong Kong’s £42m Mira hotel confirmed to The Daily Telegraph that a man called Edward Snowden had been staying at the 492-room luxury hotel in Kowloon.
“He checked out today,” said one staff member, who declined to be named.
The employees declined to say exactly when Mr Snowden, who reportedly flew to Hong Kong on May 20, had checked in and out, or which floor he had been staying on.
But it was from one of the hotel’s “uniquely designed guestrooms” that the 29-year-old looked on as news of his leaked revelations swept across the globe.
The Mira is one of Hong Kong’s most fashionable and talked about hotels. It describes itself as “a design-led urban retreat for the discerning traveller” and boasts a Michelin Star Chinese restaurant, a 25-metre indoor pool and a 18,000 square metre spa.
The Mira would have made a comfortable, if expensive, place to lie low. A brochure describes the hotel as “a living, breathing sophisticated space” which promises to “pamper the mind, body and spirit of the fast-living urban traveller”. Once a week the hotel hosts “Champagne Tuesday” at which guests quaff HK$100 glasses of champagne to the sound of “cool French jazz”.
Kowloon’s hustle and bustle would also have offered good cover to anyone wanting to fly under the radar. Outside the Mira’s pitch-black entrance at Number 118 Nathan Road, the streets teem with street hawkers and workers. Shoppers pour in and out of glitzy shopping malls and Cartier and Philippe Patek boutiques.
It is unclear how much Mr Snowden was able to take advantage of the hotel’s luxury facilities. Staff members refused to go into details about their former guest on Monday and The Guardian reported that the former contractor had spent three weeks “ensconced” in his bedroom, ordering room service. “I’ve left the room maybe a total of three times during my entire stay,” Mr Snowden said.
As Mr Snowden’s identity and and unexpected presence in Hong Kong was revealed on Monday morning, journalists raced to locate his hideout.
Rumours about his exact whereabouts spread on social media, with one Twitter-user suggesting Mr Snowden had been staying in the Excelsior hotel in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay area. Staff there said they had “no information” about his presence, however, and refused to confirm or deny if they were hosting a guest named Edward Snowden.
By late afternoon Mr Snowden’s temporary home had been identified by means of an elegant bedside lamp that appeared in footage of an interview he had given and matched those in the Mira.
Members of the media rushed to the Kowloon hotel but by then the elusive Mr Snowden had left, staff said.
Tonight it was not clear if Mr Snowden remained in Hong Kong or had travelled elsewhere.
He told The Guardian he had chosen to come to Hong Kong because of its “commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent” but planned “to seek asylum in a country with shared values”, possibly Iceland.
A security guard outside the palm-flanked US consulate laughed off questions about the former CIA employee. “There are many Americans living in Hong Kong,” he said, grinning. – The Telegraph