NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden Seeks Asylum in Ecuador
Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor and CIA technician who admitted to leaking secret wiretapping policies of American citizens, circled the globe to evade U.S. authorities on Sunday and is now seeking asylum in Ecuador. The move has left the Obama administration scrambling to determine its next step in what became a diplomatic game of cat-and-mouse.
The United States formally charged Snowden on Friday with theft of U.S. government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence to an unauthorized person, with the latter two charges falling under the U.S. Espionage Act.
Snowden has been hiding in Hong Kong since revealing highly classified information about spy programs by the NSA and other U.S. agencies. U.S. authorities asked Hong Kong officials to detain Snowden after charging him.
However, Snowden was allowed to leave Hong Kong on Sunday, abound for Moscow, Russia with his final destination being Ecuador, because a U.S. extradition request did not fully comply with their laws, the Hong Kong government said.
The U.S. has since revoked Snowden’s passport, Reuters reported citing unnamed sources.
Snowden arrived at the Moscow airport late Sunday, where he planned to spend the night before boarding an Aeroflot flight to Cuba. Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said his government received an asylum request from Snowden. Once Snowden arrives in Ecuador his asylum request will be formally processed.
The anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks also said they would help the whistleblower. Former Spanish Judge Mr. Baltasar Garzon, legal director of Wikileaks and lawyer for Julian Assange issued this statement:
“The WikiLeaks legal team and I are interested in preserving Mr. Snowden’s rights and protecting him as a person. What is being done to Mr. Snowden and to Mr. Julian Assange — for making or facilitating disclosures in the public interest — is an assault against the people.”
Mr. Edward Snowden, the American whistleblower who exposed evidence of a global surveillance regime conducted by U.S. and U.K. intelligence agencies, has left Hong Kong legally.
He is bound for the Republic of Ecuador via a safe route for the purposes of asylum, and is being escorted by diplomats and legal advisors from WikiLeaks.
Mr. Snowden requested that WikiLeaks use its legal expertise and experience to secure his safety. Once Mr. Snowden arrives in Ecuador his request will be formally processed.
– Wikileaks statement
The White House had no comment on the WikiLeaks posting. The White House would only say that President Barack Obama had been briefed on the developments by his national security advisers.
U.S. lawmakers were more vocal.
“He goes to the very countries that have, at best, very tense relationships with the United States and do not value press freedoms whatsoever,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., adding that she feared Snowden would trade more U.S. secrets for asylum.
“This is not going to play out well for the national security interests of the United States,” she added.
Some U.S. lawmakers warned that countries helping Snowden to evade trial were hurting their relationship with the U.S.
“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.
The move left the U.S. with limited options as Snowden’s itinerary took him on a tour of what many see as anti-American capitals. Ecuador in particular has rejected the United States’ previous efforts at cooperation, and has been helping WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, avoid prosecution by allowing him to stay at its embassy in London.
A State Department official said the United States was in touch through diplomatic and law enforcement channels with countries that Snowden could travel through or to, reminding them that Snowden is wanted on criminal charges and reiterating Washington’s position that Snowden should only be permitted to travel back to the U.S.
The move by Snowden come as the world marked World Refugee Day on Friday, June 21st. The Ecuadorian government has said they will make refugee protection a national priority.