Edward Snowden’s family at odds with Assange; Evo Morales’s plane lands in Vienna

Edward Snowden’s search for asylum continues, weeks after the former National Security Agency contractor revealed details of U.S. digital surveillance programs to journalists and then fled the country. Bolivian and French authorities gave conflicting explanations of why a plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales landed in Vienna Tuesday. Bolivian foreign minister David Choquehuanca said that France and Portugal had denied the plane access to their airspace because they believed Snowden was aboard. He was not, but French officials gave a different account:

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that two officials with the French Foreign Ministry said that Morales’s plane had authorization to fly over France. They would not comment on why Bolivian officials said otherwise. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to be publicly named, according to ministry policy.

The wire service, citing an unnamed official in Vienna, reported that Morales’s aircraft asked controllers at the Vienna airport for permission to land because it needed more fuel to continue on its journey.

The aircraft took off from Vienna shortly before noon Wednesday, AP reported. Spain said the plane would be allowed to refuel in the Canary Islands, although a foreign ministry official declined to comment on a claim by Bolivia that the permission was contingent on allowing authorities to search the plane, the wire service said.

The White House, CIA and State Department all declined to comment on the situation involving the Bolivian aircraft. But the latest twist seemed to signal that U.S. authorities have been able to marshal support from European countries in what has been a feverish pursuit of the former National Security Agency contractor. It also underscored how Snowden has settled still deeper into isolation as one country after another has rejected his appeals for asylum since his disclosure of a trove of highly secret documents.

Kathy Lally and Juan Forero

One country where it appears Snowden might not be welcome is Ecuador, despite initial indications that he might go there next:

Just a week ago, the country’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, cast the Snowden affair as a struggle between good and evil, in a dramatic news conference monitored worldwide. He left little doubt where Ecuador stood.

“The man who is trying to shine a light and show transparency over acts that have affected the fundamental liberty of all people is now being pursued by those who should be giving explanations to governments and the citizens of the world,” Patiño said, sounding professorial. “It’s a paradox of life that now the whistleblower is being chased by the one who is accused.”

On Thursday, Ecuador defiantly backed out of a preferential trade accord with the United States, saying Obama administration officials were using the trade deal like a weapon to blackmail Ecuador.

“Ecuador doesn’t accept pressure nor threats from anybody, and it doesn’t trade its principles or give them up for commercial interests, no matter how important they are,” Fernando Alvarado, the communications minister, said.

And then, quite suddenly, and at first almost imperceptibly, came a shift in policy from President [Rafael] Correa. . .

Correa said earlier this week that Snowden is “under the care of the Russian authorities.” While he maintains that they’d make a determination on asylum only if Snowden got to Ecuador or an Ecuadoran embassy, he also said Snowden could not leave Moscow for asylum in Ecuador without a U.S. passport, apparently ruling out the possibility that Ecuador would provide him safe passage.

Juan Forero

At stake for Ecuador is a trade agreement with the United States, and the controversy over what Snowden revealed about U.S. intelligence practices has also been an obstacle for trade negotiations between the United States and the European Union.

Snowden’s options are dwindling, as Will Englund explains in the clip below:

Wikileaks says NSA leaker Edward Snowden has unsuccessfully applied to 20 countries for extradition, now including Russia. (The Fold/The Washington Post)

Meanwhile, there were signs of a rift between Snowden’s family and WikiLeaks, the media leak organization that has been giving him legal advice.

Bruce Fein, an attorney for Lonnie Snowden, said WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange called him Saturday and said Lonnie Snowden could talk to his son through an “intermediary.” WikiLeaks has been aiding Edward Snowden in his flight from U.S. authorities, who have charged him with leaking classified documents about government surveillance.

“We are obviously concerned. If Julian Assange can talk to Edward directly, why can’t his dad?” said Fein, who criticized what he called the “circus” of Snowden’s efforts to find asylum abroad, which WikiLeaks has apparently been coordinating.

Fein’s comments, the latest sign of tensions between Snowden’s father and Assange’s group, came as Lonnie Snowden issued a broad defense of his son, a former National Security Agency contractor who has admitted leaking information about secret surveillance programs.

In an open letter released Tuesday, the elder Snowden, a retired U.S. Coast Guard officer, praised his son as “a modern day Paul Revere summoning the American people to confront the growing danger of tyranny and one branch government.”

“What you have done and are doing has awakened congressional oversight of the intelligence community from deep slumber,” said the letter, co-written with Fein.

Jerry Markon

For the full text of that letter, continue reading here.

Beyond Snowden’s personal drama, the debate he started over surveillance and civil liberties continues in the United States, and reliable information about the programs is scarce:

Amid the cascading disclosures about National Security Agency surveillance programs, the top lawyer in the U.S. intelligence community opened his remarks at a rare public appearance last week with a lament about how much of the information being spilled was wrong.

“A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on,” said Robert Litt, citing a line often attributed to Mark Twain. “Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of misinformation that’s come out about these programs.”

The remark by Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, was aimed at news organizations. But details that have emerged from the exposure of hundreds of pages of previously classified NSA documents indicate that public assertions about these programs by senior U.S. officials have also often been misleading, erroneous or simply false. . .

Beyond inadvertent missteps, however, an examination of public statements over a period of years suggests that officials have often relied on legalistic parsing and carefully hedged characterizations in discussing the NSA’s collection of communications.

Obama’s assurances have hinged, for example, on a term — targeting — that has a specific meaning for U.S. spy agencies that would elude most ordinary citizens. . .

The NSA has significant latitude to collect and keep the contents of e-mails and other communications of U.S. citizens that are swept up as part of the agency’s court-approved monitoring of a target overseas.

The law allows the NSA to examine such messages and share them with other agencies if it determines that the information contained is evidence of a crime, conveys a serious threat or is necessary to understand foreign intelligence.

The threshold for scrutinizing other data not regarded as content but still potentially revealing is lower than it is for the contents of communications. A 2009 report by the NSA inspector general and obtained by The Washington Post indicates that the agency for years examined metadata on e-mails flowing into and out of the United States, including “the sender and recipient e-mail addresses.”

Greg Miller

For past coverage of this story, continue reading here.

Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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