US sends Government an arrest warrant for Snowden

Options narrow for US whistleblower as Iceland will not to debate issue before summer recess

The Government has received a request from the US authorities to arrest fugitive US intelligence analyst Edward Snowden.

Meanwhile, Mr Snowden’s bid for Icelandic citizenship has failed after the parliament there voted not to debate the matter before the summer recess.

The provisional arrest warrant received by the Irish Government from the US authorities is being handled by the extradition unit in the Garda's crime and security branch based in Garda headquarters, Phoenix Park, Dublin.

The warrant has been issued as a pre-emptive strike against any effort by Mr Snowden to evade the US authorities by flying from Moscow to Havana on a commercial flight that stops off at Shannon for refuelling.


The warrant would enable the Garda to arrest Mr Snowden under the Extradition Act 1965.

He could be brought before a District Court where a judge could detain him in custody for up to 18 days during which time the Americans could execute a full extradition process to bring him back to America to stand trial.

The vote in Iceland leaves Mr Snowden - believed to be staying in a transit area at a Moscow airport - with one option fewer as he seeks a country to shelter him from US espionage charges.

Six members of parliament tabled a proposal late yesterday to grant Mr Snowden citizenship after they received a request from him via WikiLeaks, opposition parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir said.

Summer recess

But a majority of parliamentarians voted against allowing the proposal to be put on the agenda, a day before parliament went into summer recess. It does not reconvene until September.

“Snowden has formally requested citizenship. But nothing is now going to happen. We could not even vote on it,” Ms Jonsdottir told Reuters.

In a letter dated July 4th, posted on Ms Jonsdottir’s blog, Mr Snowden wrote that he had been left “de facto-stateless” by his government, which revoked his passport after he fled the country and leaked information about US surveillance operations.

He has sought asylum in a number of countries, but most, including Iceland, say he must be on their soil for his application to be accepted. His request for citizenship was a different tack, hoping Iceland would give him a passport, as it has done in at least one similar case in the past.

“I appreciate that Iceland, a small but significant country in the world community, shows such courage and commitment to its higher laws and ideals,” he wrote in the letter.

Under Icelandic law, parliament can grant citizenship to foreigners, which can otherwise usually only be gained through naturalisation after a period of residence.

Iceland’s recently elected centre-right government is seen as unwilling to engage in an international dispute with the US than the previous government, even if it wants to maintain the country’s reputation for promoting internet freedom.

“It is a disappointment that he is facing limited options,” WikiLeaks’ Icelandic spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson told Reuters.

Mr Snowden is wanted for questioning in the US following his releasing information outlining how the US government was engaged in the wholesale interception of email and telephone messages.

Mr Snowden had fled to Hong Kong and then to Russia, where his plans to leave the country were scuppered when the US authorities cancelled his passport meaning he could not fly on a scheduled flight.

He is believed to be in the transit lounge of Moscow airport.

Arrest documentation

While the receipt of the provisional arrest documentation by the Department of Justice yesterday appears based on the possibility he may try to travel to Havana on the regular Aeroflot flight via Shannon, security sources in Dublin believe this is unlikely.

"We would think he'll stay in Russia for at least a while but the papers are with us now so the option of using Shannon to get to Cuba is probably out for him," one source said.

Mr Snowden (30) has already made efforts to seek political asylum in a large number of countries including Ireland. He could not make such an application unless he was physically in Ireland.

However, if he travelled via Shannon as part of his efforts to get to Cuba and was arrested under the provisional arrest warrant pending an extradition process by the American authorities in the Irish courts, he could apply for asylum while being held in prison here.

The plane of Bolivian president Evo Morales was denied permission to fly over some European countries on Wednesday after leaving Moscow when it was suspected Mr Snowden could be on board.

He worked for the National Security Agency as a contractor in Hawaii, has been trying since June 23rd to find a country that will offer him refuge from prosecution in the United States on espionage charges.

Russian president Vladimir Putin is unwilling to sendMr Snowden to the United States, with which Russia has no extradition treaty.

Additional reporting: Reuters

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times