The U.S. intelligence contractor accused of espionage for disclosing clandestine American surveillance programs was expected to leave Moscow Monday in his secretive hide-and-seek run for asylum.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, on a visit to India, said U.S. authorities “don’t know, specifically, where he may head, or what his intended destination may be.”
Ecuador’s foreign minister, Richard Patino, said at a news conference in Vietnam that he “can’t give information on Snowden’s whereabouts,” but that his government has been in contact with Moscow.
Snowden left Hong Kong Sunday for the Russian capital, despite a request from American authorities to extradite him to stand trial on the espionage charges. The U.S. also asked Russia to return him.
Kerry said it “would be deeply troubling” for both Hong Kong and Russia to allow Snowden to leave to continue his international journey to escape prosecution in the U.S.
National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the White House was disappointed that Snowden was allowed to leave Hong Kong despite a “legally valid” request for his arrest. The statement early Monday said the United States has registered “strong objections” with authorities in Hong Kong and the Chinese government.
Ecuador said it has received and was analyzing Snowden’s request for asylum. Patino said it would consider the asylum request based on the “principles of its constitution.”
Quito has often criticized U.S. foreign policy, and Patino noted that the U.S. has refused in the past to extradite “fugitive bankers…who have hurt the interests of many Ecuadorians.”
VOA reporter Jim Brooke described the scene at the Moscow airport Sunday as Snowden’s flight arrived from Hong Kong.
“There’s a huge press mob out there at the airport. But he was not allowed out of the transit area, and has made no comments, and no press availability. But the Russians, the official government line, is they love this, and they’ve given huge, live coverage to the arrival of the plane from Hong Kong and even though there was nothing to show, they showed the plane landing, they showed the other passengers leaving the international arrivals terminal. But a lot of excitement here in Moscow to be briefly at the center stage of this international cat-and-mouse game,” he said.
U.S. officials said Snowden’s passport was revoked before he left Hong Kong for Moscow. The government has advised countries where Snowden may pass through or serve as his final destination that he is wanted on felony charges and should not be allowed to travel internationally.
The anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks said its legal advisers and unidentified diplomats accompanied Snowden as he fled to Moscow Sunday. It said the escorts will remain with Snowden as he travels to Ecuador.
Ecuador has sheltered WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at its London embassy for the past year to prevent his possible extradition to the Sweden where he is under investigation for sexual assault. His lawyers say Assange fears he will be sent to the United States in connection with the group’s publication of secret U.S. diplomatic cables in 2010.
Snowden leaked documents showing that U.S. intelligence services have gathered data for years about patterns of telephone and Internet use. He said he believes the programs violate the privacy rights of citizens.
A senior administration official sharply criticized Snowden’s motives, saying his focus on transparency and individual rights “is belied by the protectors he has potentially chosen.” The official listed China, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador, saying Snowden’s failure to criticize those governments shows his “true motive” was to harm U.S. national security.
Senior U.S. officials have said the surveillance programs do not monitor the content of phone conversations, but look for patterns in the metadata, including information on the time, date and numbers called.
U.S. authorities also have said the programs prevented at least 50 terrorist attacks worldwide since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. They have accused Snowden of weakening their ability to foil future plots.