Edward Snowden is in a diplomatically neutral transit zone in Moscow’s Sheremyetevo Airport, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday, and beyond the reach of Russian authorities. The former National Security Agency contractor who gave journalists secret documents describing U.S. surveillance operations has been the subject of diplomatic exchanges and intense media speculation since he revealed himself in Hong Kong earlier this month:
Putin said Snowden arrived in Moscow unexpectedly and had committed no crime in Russia. He has not crossed into a part of the airport that requires him to show his passport to Russian authorities. Because Russia does not have an extradition agreement with the United States, Putin said, Snowden will not be extradited as the United States has requested.
“Thank God, Mr. Snowden has not committed any crimes on the Russian Federation territory,” Putin said at a news conference in Finland, where he was traveling. “Mr. Snowden is a free man.”
A short time earlier, Secretary of State John F. Kerry had issued a terse appeal to Russia’s sense of diplomatic and bilateral norms in hopes of getting them to hand over the 30-year-old former government contractor, who is charged with revealing classified information about secret U.S. surveillance programs.
Max Fisher writes that Russia does have jurisdiction over Snowden, since he has remained in the transit zone for about a day:
According to Russia’s own visa rules for American travelers, spelled out on the official Web site of the Russian Embassy in Washington, a special transit visa is required for anyone staying more than 24 hours in the transit zone. Snowden arrived at 5:03 p.m. local time on Sunday, more than 48 hours ago. He’s officially exceeded his window.
What does that mean? It means that, according to Russia’s visa rules, as of Monday evening Snowden was either required to get his hands on a Russian travel visa or he would be in the country illegally. That would seem to have forced Moscow into the uncomfortable position of either giving Snowden the visa or allowing him to remain there illegally. Either response is a form of intervention on Snowden’s behalf, contradicting Lavrov’s official explanation that the country has no jurisdiction over the American. For more than 24 hours now, Russia has had a legal right – a requirement, according to its own rules — to exercise jurisdiction over Snowden.
Authorities in the United States say they are concerned about the documents they believe Snowden is carrying and has not yet disclosed:
The NSA has teams of analysts scouring systems that they think Snowden may have accessed, officials said. Analysts are seeking to retrace his steps online and to assemble a catalogue of the material he may have taken.
“They think he copied so much stuff — that almost everything that place does, he has,” said one former government official, referring to the NSA, where Snowden worked as a contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton while in the NSA’s Hawaii facility. “Everyone’s nervous about what the next thing will be, what will be exposed.”
Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian columnist who has published a series of stories based on documents provided by Snowden, said he has exercised discretion in choosing what to disclose. Snowden, too, has said he was selective in choosing what to disclose.
“I know that he has in his possession thousands of documents, which, if published, would impose crippling damage on the United States’ surveillance capabilities and systems around the world,” Greenwald told CNN. “He has never done any of that.”
The Guardian, Greenwald said on “Meet the Press” on Sunday, has withheld “the majority of things that he gave us pursuant not only to his instruction, but to our duty as journalists.”
Over the past several weeks, The Washington Post and the Guardian have published articles and portions of documents that describe two major surveillance programs. One, called PRISM, deals with the interception of e-mail and other Internet content of foreign terrorism suspects thought to be located overseas. The other involves the amassing of a database of Americans’ phone call records — numbers dialed and received, length of call, but no content — which can be searched for a specific phone number when there is “reasonable, articulable” suspicion of a terrorist plot or activity associated with the number.
Snowden is thought to be bound for Ecuador:
Ecuador’s government sympathizes with Snowden and considers the top-secret U.S. surveillance program he revealed “a danger to us all,” as Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño put it. In a news conference, Patiño praised Snowden’s whistleblowing and read aloud the document leaker’s letter to [President Rafael] Correa requesting asylum.
Patiño’s explanation of how Ecuador views the Snowden affair was characteristic of the Correa administration’s relationship with Washington: eager to pounce on a delicate issue and tweak “the Empire,” as the United States is known to many of Correa’s followers. And if Ecuador provides asylum to Snowden, it will propel Correa and his country of 14.6 million onto the world stage, to be scolded by Washington and venerated by the international left for standing up to the world’s superpower.
Correa, 50, is among a group of leftist Latin American populists who have sought to steer their countries away from U.S. influence. Led for years by former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who died in March, the bloc includes Evo Morales, the Aymara Indian leader-turned-president of Bolivia; Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, whose army fought U.S.-trained contra guerrillas at the height of the Cold War; and the Castro brothers in Cuba. . .
Now, with the Snowden affair, Correa is risking the jobs of tens of thousands of working-class Ecuadorans who benefit from a preferential trade agreement under which the United States imports flowers, asparagus, broccoli, tuna and other products tariff-free from the country. A peeved U.S. Congress might not renew the accord — which no other South American nation has with Washington and which is set to expire July 31 — if Snowden ends up on Ecuadoran soil, said analysts in Quito and in Washington.
For past coverage of this story, continue reading here.