Search for NSA leaker Edward Snowden reveals tensions with Bolivia, Latin America

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly said that Peruvian President Ollanta Humala attended an emergency summit to express anger at the U.S. and European officials for diverting the flight path of Bolivian President Evo Morales’s plane. Humala did not attend. This version has been corrected.

Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who acknowledged giving journalists secret documents, remains at large, and the U.S. government’s efforts to pursue him are becoming a subject of controversy around the world:

The apparent diversion of the Bolivian president’s airplane in Europe has fed suspicion that the United States is quietly orchestrating an international manhunt for former NSA contractor Edward Snowden despite efforts by President Obama to play down the magnitude of that pursuit.

The circumstances surrounding the unscheduled landing of Bolivian President Evo Morales’s aircraft in Vienna remained murky Wednesday, with U.S. officials refusing to comment on Bolivian claims that the flight was blocked as part of an effort to ascertain whether Snowden — who has acknowledged leaking classified U.S. intelligence documents — was on board.

At the same time, U.S. officials made clear that the administration has held talks with governments that might be in a position to prevent Snowden from eluding U.S. capture.

“We have been in contact with a range of countries across the world who had any chance of having Mr. Snowden land or even transit through their countries, but I’m not going to outline when those were or what those countries have been,” State Department spokesman Jennifer Psaki said on Wednesday.

Bolivian authorities accused the United States of forcing Morales’s plane to land in Austria by putting pressure on American allies, including France and Portugal, and possibly Spain and Italy, to refuse to allow the Bolivian leader’s plane to enter their airspace.

Those governments have so far not acknowledged blocking Morales’s path at the behest of the United States. But their opaque statements, and a search of the aircraft by Austrian authorities, suggest that at least some U.S. allies in Europe have been persuaded to assist in the pursuit of Snowden even while expressing anger over revelations that their citizens and officials have been swept up in the surveillance programs that Snowden exposed.

Greg Miller

Morales’s landing in Austria revealed solidarity among Latin American leaders in opposition to the United States:

On Thursday, some of these leaders — Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, José “Pepe” Mujica of Uruguay, along with [Ecuadoran President Rafael] Correa and others — rushed to an emergency summit in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to express fury about Morales’s treatment.

With the United States believed to be behind Morales’s troubles, the leaders heaped scorn on the Obama administration, and Bolivia threatened to close the American embassy in La Paz.

But the gathering also showed a quirky reality unique to leaders in South America — that many of the continent’s presidents consider themselves the best of friends. They refer to one another by their first names and even tweet to followers about conversations they’ve had.

And when one feels aggrieved — as in the case of Morales, who was grounded in Vienna, he said, because of imperialist intimidation — they rally together.

“The personal ties play a big role,” said Heinz Dieterich, who writes from Mexico about the region’s left and is a leading theorist for the movement founded by the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez.

It’s a closeness shaped by a singular worldview — that over the past decade, with a string of leftist leaders elected to office from Central America to Tierra del Fuego — the region has at last freed itself from Washington’s tentacles. That makes for dramatic speeches and rousing regional summits — often with the United States playing the role of foil.

Juan Forero

Meanwhile, if Snowden is still in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, where he has reportedly been staying for almost two weeks, he has managed to remain out of the public eye:

Every year, about 25 million passengers enter Sheremetyevo Airport, and usually they come out again. Not Edward Snowden. The guy made famous by telling secrets — about U.S. surveillance programs — has managed to keep his own whereabouts hush-hush.

Somehow, he has made himself lost for nearly 12 days in a mile-long transit corridor dotted with six VIP lounges, a 66-room capsule hotel, assorted coffee shops, a Burger King and about 20 duty-free shops selling Jack Daniel’s, Cuban rum, Russian vodka and red caviar that costs four times as much as it does in the city.

Unless he’s across the runway in private Terminal A, in the watchful company of Russian officials.

The United States wants Snowden on charges of theft and disclosing classified information in violation of the Espionage Act. Scores of journalists were waiting when his flight from Hong Kong landed June 23 in Terminal F. No sign of him. Others filled seats on Aeroflot to Havana — airport officials said Snowden had a ticket for June 24 — and flew off, taking pictures of his empty seat.

The airport’s half-dozen buildings cover an area as big as about 100 football fields, set off a traffic-clogged road 18 miles from the city center. A transit zone, about a mile long, wends its way along the sides of terminals D, E and F, which are connected by a walkway so arriving passengers can board connecting international flights without having to pass through passport control and customs, which requires a visa.

Kathy Lally and Will Englund

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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