The fate of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is turning into an international espionage caper, with Snowden leading journalists on a confusing chase to verify his whereabouts as he seeks a passage out of Moscow to a country that will grant him asylum—perhaps Ecuador or Venezuela.
Reporters in Moscow boarded a Cuba-bound Aeroflot flight, expecting Snowden to be a passenger. But there was no sign of the fugitive.
U.S. officials, who have filed espionage charges against Snowden, have been outraged and embarrassed by the unwillingness of the two superpowers, China and Russia, to comply with requests to have him returned to the U.S.
After Snowden showed up in Hong Kong, the government there announced Sunday afternoon that it had allowed him to leave.
Two weeks ago, Snowden yanked the covers off the extensive National Security Agency surveillance system used to spy on Americans, setting off a countrywide debate on the intrusiveness of the government in the wake of Sept. 11.
Though the U.S. has revoked Snowden’s passport, he has applied for asylum to Ecuador, the country that has been allowing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to hide in its London embassy for months.
WikiLeaks, through a spokesman, said Snowden was ultimately bound for Ecuador “via a safe route for the purposes of asylum, and is being escorted by diplomats and legal advisers from WikiLeaks.”
Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told reporters his country is analyzing Snowden’s request, but did not say how long it would take to decide.
“We are analyzing it with a lot of responsibility,” Patino told reporters through a translator at a hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam.
He says the asylum request “has to do with freedom of expression and with the security of citizens around the world.”
“There are some governments that act more upon their own interests, but we do not,” Patino said, referring to the U.S. “We act upon our principles.”
“We take care of human rights of the people,” he added.
Citing the recent cooperation with Russia in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings and the extradition by the U.S. of criminals back to Russia, the White House said it hopes Russia will look at “all options available” to extradite Snowden to face charges before he leaves for South America.
“The United States has been in touch via diplomatic and law enforcement channels with countries in the Western Hemisphere through which Snowden might transit or that could serve as final destinations,” a State Department official told Fox News.
“The U.S. is advising these governments that Snowden is wanted on felony charges, and as such should not be allowed to proceed in any further international travel, other than is necessary to return him to the United States.”
But U.S. politicians blasted Russia and China for their lack of cooperation.
“What’s infuriating here is [President Vladimir] Putin of Russia aiding and abetting Snowden’s escape,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“The bottom line is very simple,” Schumer said. “Allies are supposed to treat each other in decent ways, and Putin always seems almost eager to put a finger in the eye of the United States, whether it is Syria, Iran and now, of course, with Snowden. That’s not how allies should treat one another, and I think it will have serious consequences for the United States-Russia relationship.”
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) agreed that Sunday’s events call “into question what kind of relationship we ever have had with China and Russia. We pretend that everything is hunky-dory when it is not. It isn’t with China. It isn’t with Russia. It certainly isn’t with Cuba, with Venezuela nor with Ecuador.”
She added: “These are countries that violate press freedoms every day. And yet [Snowden]’s seeking political asylum in those very countries where . . . if he were to pull a Snowden in these countries, they’d jail him immediately.”
“The freedom trail is not exactly China-Russia-Cuba-Venezuela, so I hope we’ll chase him to the ends of the earth, bring him to justice and let the Russians know there’ll be consequences if they harbor this guy,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
But despite the heated rhetoric, it was unlikely that the U.S. was going to get any cooperation from Russia, nor the virulently anti-American nations where Snowden is expected to be heading, such as Cuba, Ecuador or Venezuela.