After reporters and airline officials said Snowden failed to board a flight from Moscow to Havana on Monday afternoon as expected, the United States intensified its pressure on the countries suspected of offering him possible protection. Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said the United States believed Snowden was still in Moscow.
The episode, which began with embarrassing disclosures about American intelligence-gathering, has reverberated from China to South America. As Snowden stays one step ahead of U.S. law, countries large and small are exploiting the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to flout American will.
“We continue to hope that the Russians will do the right thing,” Secretary of State John F. Kerry, traveling in India, told NBC News. “We think it’s very important in terms of our relationship.
Russian news agencies quoted a string of careful statements from unnamed sources, who said they were powerless to intervene because Snowden remained in a transit area of the airport and had not crossed the border into official Russian territory.
“The Americans can’t demand anything,” Vladimir Lukin, Russia’s human rights ombudsman and a former U.S. ambassador, told the Interfax news agency.
Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño , who was traveling in Vietnam, read from a letter he said Snowden had sent President Rafael Correa. In the letter, Snowden compared himself to Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, charged in the leak of a trove classified material passed to WikiLeaks, and said he did not believe he would be treated justly and that he could be executed if returned to the United States.
Assange, speaking to reporters by telephone from his sanctuary in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London, said Snowden was with Sarah Harrison, a top WikiLeaks lieutenant and Assange confidante who had escorted him from Hong Kong. Assange said that Snowden was in a “safe place” and that his “spirits are high” but would say only that he was “bound for Ecuador via a safe path through Russia and other states.”
A former contractor for the National Security Agency, Snowden has presented the United States with a tantalizing and maddening mystery since he left Hong Kong early Sunday local time despite a request by the United States to detain him.
Journalists in Moscow have been led on one unsatisfying chase after another since Snowden arrived at the airport Sunday. About two-dozen of them bought tickets to the Monday flight to Havana — costing more than $2,000 each, round-trip — and were dismayed when the seat in Row 17 reportedly assigned to Snowden remained empty as the plane took off. Some hoped, apparently in vain, that he was wearing a disguise or hiding in a crew area of the Aeroflot Airbus.