In the final hours before Snowden departed, the State Department stepped up its involvement. On Saturday, State revoked his passport, according to a senior State Department official. A passport cannot be revoked in a criminal matter until the charges are made public, which had just been done the night before, the official said.
Hong Kong authorities said they did not receive the official U.S. notice until Wednesday. But State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said they “were well aware of our interest in Mr. Snowden and had plenty of time to prohibit his travel.”
The scramble to catch Snowden
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Yuen, the Hong Kong justice minister, said this week that his country allowed Snowden to travel because of alleged mistakes by the United States in making the extradition request. Yuen said in an interview with the South China Morning Post that the name used in U.S. diplomatic documents was Edward James Snowden, while the Justice Department referred to him as Edward J. Snowden and Hong Kong’s Immigration Department had him recorded as Edward Joseph Snowden.
Yuen also said the United States failed to provide adequate evidence or explain how two of the three charges in its arrest request fell within the scope of the extradition treaty signed by both nations in 1996.
U.S. officials insisted that they followed procedure and said Hong Kong’s concerns amounted to a stalling tactic. One U.S. official close to the discussions said Hong Kong’s claim that it could not properly identify Snowden because of inconsistencies in his middle name was “laughable,” noting that his videotaped confession was being replayed “all over the news.”
Justice officials said that if Hong Kong authorities really wanted the issue clarified, they would have waited for U.S. officials to provide answers before allowing Snowden to leave the country.
Experts said that Hong Kong authorities seized on procedural irregularities, fairly or not, to delay the U.S. request long enough to allow Snowden to flee to Russia.
“It’s really hard to play Monday-morning quarterback in a case like this,” Vladeck said, “because there’s no guarantee that Hong Kong would have cooperated — even if all the i’s had been dotted and t’s crossed.”
As for Snowden, all evidence suggests he remains ensconced in the transit area at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. On Thursday, another daily Aeroflot flight to Havana closed its doors without any sign that the American fugitive was on board.
Anne Gearan in Washington, Kathy Lally in Moscow, David Nakamura in Dakar, Senegal, and Jia Lynn Yang in Hong Kong contributed to this report.