Meanwhile, China, Russia, Cuba, and Ecuador — countries with dismal human rights records — have cast themselves as the champions of political freedom.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, confirming Tuesday that Snowden was holed up inside a secure transit zone at the airport in Moscow, said Russian authorities saw no reason to extradite him. He also jabbed at the U.S. treatment of the former NSA contractor and his new benefactor, WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange.
“Assange and Snowden consider themselves human rights activists and say they are fighting for the spread of information,” Putin said. “Ask yourself: Should such people be extradited to be jailed or not?”
U.S. officials have rejected characterizations of Snowden as a whistleblower, while defending the NSA’s surveillance programs as critical to protecting national security interests. They have also pointed out the irony in Snowden’s decision to evade arrest by traveling to Hong Kong, a Chinese territory, as well as Russia — “powerful bastions of Internet freedom,” Secretary of State John F. Kerry quipped recently.
On Tuesday, Kerry struck a more diplomatic note, saying during a stopover in Saudi Arabia that although “we are not looking for a confrontation” with Russia, the Obama administration “would hope that as a nation, as a sovereign nation, Russia would not see its interests in siding with a person who is accused of breaking the law in another nation and who is a fugitive from justice according to international standards of law.”
For many of the countries that have long bristled under Washington’s criticism of their policies, disclosure of details of the NSA’s electronic monitoring has been a golden opportunity to return the favor.
In the aftermath of revelations by The Washington Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper, the state-controlled China Daily published a cartoon of the Statue of Liberty, her shadow in the form of a hooded spook hoisting a recording mike in one hand and a tape recorder in the other.
“The United States, which has long been trying to play innocent as a victim of cyber-attacks, has turned out to be the biggest villain in our age,” the state Xinhua News Agency wrote in a commentary.
In Latin America, the Snowden affair has been a political coup for America’s fiercest critics, including Venezuela, Cuba and Ecuador, where the contractor was said to have explored the possibility of asylum. Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa, who has been criticized for silencing journalists, has taken up Snowden’s cause. His foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, said Snowden’s asylum request “has to do with freedom of expression and the security of citizens around the world.”