On Sunday, WikiLeaks said in a statement that Snowden would petition Ecuador for asylum. The government in Quito — which has granted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange asylum at its embassy in London — confirmed that it had received an official request for asylum from Snowden.
“This was an obvious thing for us to do, to support him in any way we can,” said Kristinn Hrafnsson, an Icelandic journalist and WikiLeaks spokesman. “His revelations have been explosive and extremely important, and we’ve offered our full help and assistance.”
The behind-the-scenes machinations once again shined a spotlight on WikiLeaks, the crusading organization that has become a thorn in the side of Western governments with its occasionally damaging, almost always embarrassing revelations of official secrets.
The brand of assistance offered by WikiLeaks in legal cases is well documented and potent, with the group displaying an uncanny ability to tap assistance from countries hostile to the West and particularly the United States. For more than a year, for instance, Assange has defied the odds against the British and Swedish legal systems, holing up at the Embassy of Ecuador, a stone’s throw from Harrods in opulent Knightsbridge, as he fights extradition to face allegations of sexual assault in Stockholm.
The marriage between Snowden and WikiLeaks is a natural match, both sharing an ideology of disclosure and a contempt for official secrecy. WikiLeaks has also been linked to Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, the source of a trove of classified material passed to the group and whose case has close parallels to Snowden’s.
Hrafnsson said he personally established contact with Snowden last week while the American was in Hong Kong. He was vague about the operational details of their contact, saying only that “I used means that any journalist would.”
Arrangements were then made, Hrafnsson said, for Harrison — a member of the WikiLeaks legal defense team who works under former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon — to meet Snowden in Hong Kong and accompany him out of the autonomous region. Harrison, a British citizen, a journalist and a legal researcher, is not a lawyer. But she is considered a close confidant of Assange and a high-level member of WikiLeaks, and her presence suggested the direct involvement of the group’s founder in the decision to aid Snowden. On Sunday, Harrison was still with Snowden in Moscow, Hrafnsson said.