US calls on Russia to expel NSA whistleblower
White House says Russia has legal basis for expelling Edward Snowden
A TV screen in a St Petersburg pool hall shows former US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden during a news bulletin. Photograph: Alexander Demianchuk/The Irish Times
A crew member of Aeroflot’s SU150 Moscow-Havana flight takes pictures of reporters at Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport . The Aeroflot flight from Moscow that was being closely tracked by media organizations in case Edward Snowden was on board, landed in Cuba uneventfully on Monday. Photograph: Desmond Boylan/Reuters
White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the legal basis for expelling Snowden are the status of his travel documents and the pending espionage charges against him.
“Accordingly, we are asking the Russian government to take action to expel Mr Snowden without delay and to build upon the strong law enforcement co-operation we have had, particularly since the Boston Marathon bombing,” she said.
The White House statement came after Russian president Vladimir Putin ruled out handing over Snowden, who leaked details of US surveillance programs.
Ms Hayden said the United States had seen comments from Mr Putin and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and “we understand that Russia must consider the issues raised by Mr Snowden’s decision to travel there.”
“We agree with president Putin that we do not want this issue to negatively impact our bilateral relations. While we do not have an extradition treaty with Russia, there is nonetheless a clear legal basis to expel Mr Snowden, based on the status of his travel documents and the pending charges against him,” she said. Speaking on a visit to Finland earlier today, Mr Putin added that Russian security agencies “didn’t work and aren’t working” with Mr Snowden. He gave no more details.
Commenting on a US request to extradite him, Mr Putin said Russia doesn’t have an extradition agreement with the US and thus would not meet the US request. He said he hoped Mr Snowden will depart as quickly as possible and that his stopover at Moscow’s airport wouldn’t affect bilateral ties.
Russia earlier denied a role in Mr Snowden’s efforts to evade prosecution and said he has not crossed the border into Russia.
Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said the former US spy agency contractor “chose his itinerary on his own. We learned about it ... from the media. He has not crossed the Russian border.
“We consider the attempts to put blame on the Russian side ... absolutely groundless and unacceptable,” he said.
Mr Snowden, who booked a Havana-bound flight from Moscow yesterday, did not show up on the plane.
A Moscow airport source told Reuters today that Mr Snowden had arrived in Moscow on Sunday on and was due to depart for Havana the following day, but did not use the ticket.
The source said he was travelling with Sarah Harrison, a British legal researcher working for the anti-secrecy group, WikiLeaks. “She came together with Edward Snowden from Hong-Kong on June 23rd around 5pm,” the source said. “He had a ticket to go to Havana on the 24th, but he did not use it. She also had one, but she didn’t use it either.”
Earlier today China said the United States’ accusations of Beijing facilitating the departure of Mr Snowden from Hong Kong were “groundless and unacceptable”. The US has asked for help from both enemies and uneasy allies in an effort to catch Mr Snowden.
The White House demanded that he be denied asylum, criticised China for letting him go and urged Russia to “do the right thing” and send him back to America to face espionage charges.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a briefing all parties should accept the Hong Kong government had handled Mr Snowden’s case in accordance with the law.
The White House said Hong Kong’s decision was “a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant, and that decision unquestionably has a negative impact on the US-China relationship”.
Beijing’s main state newspaper praised Mr Snowden today for “tearing off Washington’s sanctimonious mask”.
The overseas edition of China’s People’s Daily, which does not spell out official policy but can reflect the government’s thinking, said Beijing could not accept “this kind of dissatisfaction and opposition” from the United States.
Mr Snowden spent weeks hiding out in Hong Kong following his disclosure of the broad scope of two highly classified counter-terror surveillance programmes to two newspapers.
The programmes collect vast amounts of Americans’ phone records and worldwide online data in the name of national security.
Despite its diplomatic tough talk, the US faces considerable difficulty in securing co-operation on Mr Snowden from nations with whom it has chilly relations.
Mr Snowden has acknowledged revealing details of top-secret surveillance programmes that sweep up millions of phone and Internet records daily. He is a former CIA employee who later was hired as a contractor through Booz Allen to be a computer systems analyst.
In that job, he gained access to documents - many of which he has given to the Guardian and the Washington Post to expose what he contends are privacy violations by an authoritarian government.
Mr Assange and lawyers for WikiLeaks attacked the US for “bullying” foreign nations into refusing asylum to Mr Snowden. WikiLeaks counsel Michael Ratner said Mr Snowden is protected as a whistle-blower by the same international treaties that the US has in the past used to criticise policies in China and African nations.
Ecuador’s president and foreign minister declared that national sovereignty and universal principles of human rights - not US pressure - would govern any decision they might make on granting asylum to Mr Snowden.