The whereabouts of Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who publicized secret documents describing U.S. surveillance and intelligence operations earlier this month, remain uncertain. According to Russian authorities, Snowden remains in a diplomatically neutral area in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport:
He has not been seen at the airport, however, despite scores of reporters questioning everyone in sight and buying tickets for the long flight to Havana. One news agency sent its photographer to Havana Thursday — for the second time this week.
On Tuesday, President Vladimir Putin confirmed that Snowden was in the airport’s transit zone, an area where a passenger can stay without a visa to enter the country. Putin said Russia had no intention of extraditing Snowden but was not eager to keep him, either.
“Mr. Snowden is a free man,” he said. “The faster he chooses his ultimate destination, the better for us and for him.”
The fugitive’s failure to leave so far has touched off speculation that Snowden is having trouble buying a ticket without proper documents — his U.S. passport was revoked last week — or that Russia was taking the opportunity to question him.
Putin denied Russian security agents are speaking with Snowden, as did Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder who assisted Snowden’s journey to Moscow from Hong Kong. Snowden intended to travel to a third country, according to WikiLeaks, and officials in Ecuador have verified he has requested asylum there. The officials said it could take days, weeks or months for a decision to be made.
Snowden, who has been charged with espionage, has applied for asylum in Ecuador, which renounced a trade agreement with the United States today to demonstrate its independence from Washington:
The announcement by Communications Minister Fernando Alvarez comes at a moment when Ecuador faces U.S. pressure to avoid granting asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden. Alvarez told a news conference that the trade deal had become “a new instrument of blackmail.
“In consequence, Ecuador unilaterally and irrevocably renounces said preferences.”. . .
Alvarez said his country “does not accept threats from anybody, and does not trade in principles, or submit to mercantile interests, as important as they may be.”
Ecuador has been lobbying for continuation of reduced tariffs on hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of trade in products such as cut flowers, artichokes and broccoli. Nearly half of Ecuador’s foreign trade depends on the U.S.
With the deal already struggling in Congress, Ecuador’s announcement that it is considering asylum for Snowden threatened to kill its access to the Generalized System of Preferences, which benefits 127 countries.
Max Fisher speculates that Snowden may remain at Sheremetyevo permanently:
Assuming that Edward Snowden has not already been spirited away from Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport to yet another international destination, he may want to buy an ushanka and find a nice dacha. Russia, though it was initially supposed to be a stopover, perhaps on the way to Ecuador, might be Snowden’s best bet for permanent shelter away from the United States’s requests for extradition.
Snowden’s other options look risky or have already fallen through. He fled Hong Kong when it became clear that the Chinese special administrative region would not guarantee his asylum and that he might face jail time pending the U.S. extradition request. Snowden had earlier said he wanted to seek refuge in Iceland. But the government there, which recently shifted to the right and has an economic interest in not upsetting the United States, has downplayed its willingness accepting him.
Shortly after Snowden arrived in Moscow, he was said to have booked a ticket on a flight to Cuba and, presumably, on to Ecuador. He wasn’t on the flight, but some Cuba-watchers have since pointed out that the island nation might feel compelled to turn him away, owing to its 2006 pledge to stop sheltering American fugitives.
Ecuador, still considered his most likely final destination, has indeed dropped high-level hints that it would take him. And that would be consistent with the country’s decision to shelter Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in its London embassy. It would also be consistent with Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa’s efforts to position himself as a nationalist not afraid of tweaking Western powers – and his efforts to restrict political rivals and critical journalists by suggesting they’re working with the hostile Americans. . .
The questions Snowden might want to ask himself is what happens when Correa leaves office? Ecuador has a number of economic interests in maintaining a positive relationship with the United States. Even if Correa believes that his country is better served by sheltering Snowden, his successor could very plausibly feel differently. It’s not hard to imagine the next president of Ecuador wondering if extraditing Snowden would improve relations with the United States enough to help through a favorable trade deal or two. Correa is term-limited to leave office in 2017. His legislature did generously amend the constitution to allow Correa to take a third term, but that might not continue indefinitely.
For more on Ecuador’s relationship with the United States, continue reading here.
President Obama, speaking to reporters during a diplomatic visit to Senegal, said he would not engage in “wheeling and dealing” to secure Snowden’s extradition:
“I’m not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker,” Obama said during a news conference here with Senegal President Mackey Sall on the first full day of his visit to Africa.
The president said he is pursuing Snowden’s extradition through established legal channels. But he suggested that making sure sensitive national security information is not compromised is a higher priority than apprehending Snowden, who is assumed to be in Russia after fleeing Hong Kong last week, has been charged in the United States with illegally revealing secret information about U.S. data surveillance programs. . .
Obama told reporters that he was “making sure that we are doing everything we can” to prevent future unauthorized disclosure of classified materials.
“We don’t know what Mr. Snowden’s motives were,” he said. “But it does show some pretty significant vulnerabilities over at the NSA that we have to solve.”
Obama made his remarks after an hour-long meeting with Sall, during which they discussed trade and economic investments between the United States and Senegal. The president later toured Senegal’s Supreme Court, a visit designed to emphasize the “rule of law” in a budding democratic country where Sall has pledged to root out corruption and hold officials accountable.
Obama and first lady Michelle Obama also were scheduled to tour Goree Island, the site from which African slaves were once shipped across the world to the United States and other countries.
For past coverage of this story, continue reading here.