US urges Russia to expel whistleblower
Papers issued to guarantee Edward Snowden safe passage to Ecuador, Wikileaks founder says
An empty passenger seat believed to be reserved by former US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden is seen on a plane to Cuba in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. Photograph: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters
A plane en route to Cuba takes off from Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, today. There was no sign that former Edward Snowden was onboard despite speculation he would be travelling on it. Photograph: REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
US officials are are working with Moscow in hopes he will be expelled and returned to America to face criminal charges, president Barack Obama’s spokesman said.
Mr Snowden left Hong Kong, where he has been in hiding, and flew to Moscow but then apparently did not board a plane bound for Cuba as had been expected. His whereabouts were a mystery.
The founder of WikiLeaks , Julian Assange, said he wouldn’t go into details about where Mr Snowden was but said he was safe.
Mr Snowden has applied for asylum in Ecuador, Iceland and possibly other countries, Mr Assange said.
“In relation to Hong Kong, Mr Snowden was supplied with a refugee document of passage by the Ecuadorean government,” Mr Assange told reporters from inside the Ecuador embassy in London where he has been himself hiding from arrest for more than a year.
Such papers did not necessarily mean that Mr Snowden would be granted asylum in Ecuador, Mr Assange said.
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney said the US was expecting the Russians “to look at the options available to them to expel Mr Snowden back to the United States to face justice for the crimes with which he is charged.”
“The Chinese have emphasised the importance of building mutual trust,” he added. “And we think that they have dealt that effort a serious setback. If we cannot count on them to honor their legal extradition obligations, then there is a problem. And that is a point we are making to them very directly.”
Mr Snowden has given highly classified documents to The Guardian and The Washington Post newspapers disclosing US surveillance programs that collect vast amounts of phone records and online data in the name of foreign intelligence, often sweeping up information on American citizens. He also told the South China Morning Post that “the NSA does all kinds of things like hack Chinese cellphone companies to steal all of your SMS data.”
Mr Snowden still has perhaps more than 200 sensitive documents, Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said over the weekend.
He had been in hiding in Hong Kong. The United States formally sought Snowden’s extradition but was rebuffed by Hong Kong officials who said the request did not fully comply with their laws. The US justice department rejected that claim, saying its request met all of the requirements of the extradition treaty between the US and Hong Kong.
Mr Carney said: “We are just not buying that this was a technical decision by a Hong Kong immigration official. This 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.”
The dual lines of diplomacy — harsh with China, hopeful with the Russians — came just days after Mr Obama met separately with leaders of both countries in an effort to close gaps on some of the major disputes facing them.
Mr Snowden arrived in Moscow yesterday, but his whereabouts were thrown into question today when a plane took off from Moscow for Cuba with an empty seat booked in his name. The US has revoked his passport.
In Washington, secretary of state John Kerry said it would be “deeply troubling” if Russia or Hong Kong had adequate notice about Snowden’s plans to flee to a country that would grant him asylum and still allowed him leave.
“We don’t know, specifically, where he may head, or what his intended destination may be,” Mr Kerry said, during a news conference in New Delhi where he was discussing bilateral issues between the US and India.
US officials pointed to improved co-operation with the Russians in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing and to assistance the US has given Russia on law enforcement cases.
“We continue to hope that the Russians will do the right thing,” Mr Kerry told NBC News. “We think it’s very important in terms of our relationship. We think it’s very important in terms of rule of law. These are important standards. We have returned seven criminals that they requested for extradition from the United States over the last two years. So we really hope that the right choice will be made here.”
“We don’t know, specifically, where he may head, or what his intended destination may be,” he said.
Mr Carney said the US was in touch through diplomatic and law enforcement channels with countries through which Mr Snowden might travel or where he might end up and urged them to return him to America.
An Aeroflot representative said Mr Snowden wasn’t on flight SU150 to Havana, which was filled with journalists trying to track him down.
After spending a night in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, Mr Snowden had been expected to fly to Cuba and Venezuela en route to possible asylum in Ecuador.
Some analysts said it was likely that the Russians were questioning Mr Snowden, interested in what he knew about US electronic espionage against Moscow.
Ecuador’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, said his government had received an asylum request, adding today that the decision “has to do with freedom of expression and with the security of citizens around the world.”