Edward Snowden never crossed border into Russia, says foreign minister
Sergei Lavrov's comments about fugitive US whistleblower deepen mystery surrounding his whereabouts
Miriam Elder in Moscow
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 25 June 2013 11.17 BST
Russia's foreign minister has said the surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden never crossed the border into Russia, deepening the mystery over his suspected flight from Hong Kong.
"I would like to say right away that we have no relation to either Mr Snowden or to his relationship with American justice or to his movements around the world," Sergei Lavrov said.
"He chose his route on his own, and we found out about it, as most here did, from mass media," he said during a joint press conference with Algeria's foreign minister. "He did not cross the Russian border."
According to WikiLeaks, which said it facilitated his travel, Snowden fled Hong Kong on Sunday morning to transit via Moscow to an undisclosed third country. He has applied to be granted political asylum by Ecuador, whose London embassy is currently sheltering the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Russian news agencies, citing anonymous sources, reported that Snowden had arrived in Moscow on Sunday evening and met Ecuadorean diplomats at Sheremetyevo airport while awaiting a Monday afternoon flight to Havana, from where he would travel to Venezuela. Snowden did not show up for the flight.
Passengers arriving on the Hong Kong to Moscow flight that was suspected to be carrying Snowden said they saw police activity and at least one black car drive up to the plane before they were allowed to disembark.
That fuelled speculation that Snowden may have been whisked from the plane before going through passport control. Olafur Vignir Sigurvinsson, an Icelandic businessman with links to WikiLeaks, told Reuters last week that he had readied a private jet to aid Snowden's flight from Hong Kong should the Icelandic government grant him asylum.
The US has warned Russia and China against helping Snowden as it seeks his extradition to face charges of espionage for gathering and disclosing documents outlining US surveillance programmes.
The White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday that the US was working under the assumption that Snowden was in Russia.
Lavrov lashed out angrily at suggestions that Russia was involved. "We consider the attempts we are now seeing to blame the Russian side for breaking US laws and being almost in on the plot totally baseless and unacceptable, and even an attempt to threaten us," he said.
********China's state newspaper praises Edward Snowden for 'tearing off Washington's sanctimonious mask'
State-run People's Daily says whistleblower has exposed US hypocrisy after Washington blamed Beijing for his escape
Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 25 June 2013 10.22 BST
Link to video: Barack Obama says US will pursue Edward Snowdenhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2013/jun/25/barack-obama-edward-snowden-video
China's top state newspaper has praised the fugitive US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden for "tearing off Washington's sanctimonious mask" and rejected accusations Beijing had facilitated his departure from Hong Kong.
The strongly worded front-page commentary in the overseas edition of the People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist party, responded to harsh criticism of China from the US for allowing Snowden to flee.
The Chinese government has said it was gravely concerned by Snowden's allegations that the US had hacked into many networks in Hong Kong and China, including Tsinghua University, which hosts one of the country's internet hubs, and Chinese mobile network companies. It said it had taken the issue up with Washington.
"Not only did the US authorities not give us an explanation and apology, it instead expressed dissatisfaction at the Hong Kong special administrative region for handling things in accordance with law," wrote Wang Xinjun, a researcher at the Academy of Military Science in the People's Daily commentary.
"In a sense, the United States has gone from a 'model of human rights' to 'an eavesdropper on personal privacy', the 'manipulator' of the centralised power over the international internet, and the mad 'invader' of other countries' networks," the People's Daily said.
The White House said allowing Snowden to leave was "a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant, and that decision unquestionably has a negative impact on the US-China relationship".
The People's Daily, which reflects the thinking of the government, said China could not accept "this kind of dissatisfaction and opposition".
"The world will remember Edward Snowden," the newspaper said. "It was his fearlessness that tore off Washington's sanctimonious mask".
The exchanges mark a deterioration in ties between the two countries just weeks after a successful summit meeting between presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping. But experts say Washington is unlikely to resort to any punitive action.
A commentary in the Global Times, owned by the People's Daily, also attacked the US for cornering "a young idealist who has exposed the sinister scandals of the US government".
"Instead of apologising, Washington is showing off its muscle by attempting to control the whole situation," the Global Times said.
Snowden gave US authorities the slip by leaving Hong Kong on an Aeroflot plane to Moscow on Sunday. The US had requested his detention for extradition to the US on treason charges but the Hong Kong authorities responded that the papers had not been in order and Snowden was free to leave.
Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, said Washington did not believe the explanation that it was a "technical" decision by Hong Kong immigration authorities. "The Hong Kong authorities were advised of the status of Mr Snowden's travel documents in plenty of time to have prohibited his travel as appropriate. We do not buy the suggestion that China could not have taken action."
On Monday Snowden had been expected to board another plane from Moscow for Cuba and ultimately fly from there to Ecuador, which is considering granting him asylum. But journalists who boarded the plane in Moscow soon found Snowden had not taken his seat.
When the plane landed in Cuba there was likewise no sign that Snowden had been on board. The pilot greeted journalists at Havana's Jose Marti international airport by pulling out his own camera, taking pictures of the them and saying: "No Snowden, no."
The harshly worded Chinese commentaries did not appear on the country's main news portals on Tuesday afternoon. Instead most articles focused on hard news, such as Snowden's still-unknown final destination, his relationship with WikiLeaks and the details of his departure from Hong Kong.
Another editorial in the People's Daily on Monday defended the Hong Kong government for allowing Snowden to leave despite a US warrant for his arrest, claiming that it acted according to the law and "will be able to withstand examination".
"The voices of a few American politicians and media outlets surrounding the Prism scandal have become truly shrill," it said. "Not only do some of them lack the least bit of self-reflection but they also arrogantly find fault with other countries for no reason at all."
Shi Yinhong, an expert on China-US relations at Renmin University in Beijing, said the Snowden affair had given China's leaders an opportunity to shore up their own legitimacy domestically by projecting a strong message of US hypocrisy.
Yet behind the scenes, he said, top leaders were probably reluctant to allow the affair to significantly impact bilateral ties. "Maybe this will have an impact on public opinion in China, but for the Chinese government almost nothing has changed," he said. "Even if this damages China-US relations it'll be very temporary."
**********US scrambles to find Edward Snowden and urges Russia to co-operate
Washington criticises China for allowing NSA whistleblower to leave but Snowden's whereabouts remain a source of confusion
Spencer Ackerman and Dan Roberts in Washington, Miriam Elder in Moscow, Tania Branigan in Hong Kong and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 25 June 2013 05.41 BST
The attempt by Edward Snowden to escape the clutches of US authorities descended into farce when the 30-year-old surveillance whistleblower outpaced the world's biggest intelligence apparatus in a round-the-world chase that was still under way on Monday.
Washington could barely disguise its fury at the manner in which Snowden was hustled out of Hong Kong, despite the US having revoked his passport and demanded his detention. The White House made it clear that China-US relations had been placed under great strain.
China reacted angrily on Tuesday with commentaries in state-run newspapers rejecting US claims that it helped Snowden escape and portraying the whistleblower as a young idealist and a hero. The People's Daily said the US was criticising China when it should be apologising for hacking into the networks of China and Hong Kong as alleged by Snowden.
The whereabouts of Snowden remained unclear on Tuesday morning. Journalists who boarded a flight from Moscow to Havana, a suspected lay-over stop on a journey to Ecuador, reported that they could not see the former National Security Agency contractor on the plane, despite reports that he had checked in. Later the plane arrived in Cuba without any sign of Snowden.
Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, was sharply critical of Hong Kong's decision to allow Snowden to leave. He said the administration did not believe the explanation that it was a "technical" decision by Hong Kong immigration authorities. "The Hong Kong authorities were advised of the status of Mr Snowden's travel documents in plenty of time to have prohibited his travel as appropriate. We do not buy the suggestion that China could not have taken action."
Speaking in Dehli on Monday, US secretary of state John Kerry expressed frustration that China had failed to detain Snowden. "It would be deeply troubling, obviously, if they had adequate notice, and notwithstanding that, they make the decision wilfully to ignore that and not live by the standards of the law."
But in its strongly worded front-page commentary the People's Daily countered that Snowden's actions had "torn off Washington's sanctimonious mask". "In a sense the United States has gone from a 'model of human rights' to 'an eavesdropper on personal privacy', the 'manipulator' of the centralised power over the international Internet, and the mad 'invader' of other countries' networks," the official Communist party paper said.
Carney said the US was working on the assumption that Snowden was still in Russia, and said the administration was urging the authorities in Moscow to turn Snowden over to the US. "We have a strong co-operative relationship with the Russians on law enforcement matters," Carney said, in remarks that were notably less pointed than those directed at China. "We have known where he is and believe we know where he is now," Carney said.
Amid farcical scenes at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow, an Aeroflot flight to Havana, packed with journalists, took off apparently without him. As the Airbus A330 began to roll back from the gate, Nikolai Sokolov, an Aeroflot gate employee, said: "He's not on board."
Around two dozen journalists settled in for the 12-hour journey on flight SU150 to Havana – a service on which no alcohol is served.
Reuters later reported that before the plane left, a white van approached and police stood by as a man in a white shirt climbed the stairs. This man could not be identified by reporters watching in the transit area.
When the plane landed in Cuba security was tight, with journalists awaiting its arrival forced to move outside the airport building. A member of the Aeroflot crew spoke briefly to reporters gathered outside Havana's Jose Marti international airport but would not give his name. "No special people on board," he said, smiling. "Only journalists."
The Associated Press said two of its journalists on the flight confirmed after it arrived on Monday evening in Havana that Snowden had not been on board.
When the captain of the Aeroflot plane emerged from customs he was surrounded by photographers. He pulled out his own camera, took pictures of the photographers and said: "No Snowden, no."
Ricardo Patino, Ecuador's foreign minister, speaking in Hanoi, said it was considering an asylum request by Snowden, but did not know where he was. "I cannot give you information about that. We are in contact with the Russian government, but this specific information about this precise situation of Edward Snowden, we cannot give it to you right now, because we don't have it."
Patino read out what he said was a statement from Snowden, in which the whistleblower compared himself to WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning, currently on trial in the US for "aiding the enemy". Snowden apparently said: "It is unlikely that I will have a fair trial or humane treatment before trial, and also I have the risk of life imprisonment or death."
More details emerged on Monday about Snowden's last few days in Hong Kong. Albert Ho, a solicitor who acted for the former NSA contractor in Hong Kong, told the Guardian that Snowden has asked him to make inquiries of the authorities about their intentions. "I talked to government officials on Friday seeking verification of whether they really wanted him to go, and in case they really wanted him to go, whether he would be given safe passage."
Ho said Snowden made up his mind on Friday to leave for Moscow. "It was evident that extradition proceedings would begin quite quickly," Ho said.
Another source with knowledge of events in Hong Kong said Snowden appeared nervous when he left, and that he was not sure whether he might be heading into a trap. "It happened very suddenly, in one or two days. Before that he was thinking of staying and fighting the case," the source said.
"He well understood what the different situations were – and the consequences. Things were changing all the time. He knew that he was in trouble, but he didn't panic. He understood the consequences of what he had done, making enemies of many people, but he didn't regret it."
The WikLeaks founder Julian Assange, in a conference call from the Ecuadorean embassy in London where he is sheltering from Swedish extradition attempts, said he knew where Snowden was. It was unclear, however, how big a part Assange and WikiLeaks had played in Snowden's escape from Hong Kong. Assange said Wikileaks had paid for Snowden's travel costs and lodgings since he left Hong Kong.
Asked about how Snowden had been able to travel after his US passport had been revoked, Assange said Snowden had been "supplied with a refugee document of passage by the Ecuadoran government".
Another lawyer who acted for Snowden in Hong Kong, Robert Tibbo, asked about WikiLeaks' role in brokering Snowden's asylum deal: "All I can say is that this is a very complex situation."
Hong Kong authorities, in announcing Snowden's departure, issued a statement Sunday saying the US extradition request "failed to comply with legal requirements under Hong Kong law".
But US officials insisted that no objection had been raised in a series of high-level diplomatic exchanges. "At no point, in all of our discussions through Friday, did the authorities in Hong Kong raise any issues regarding the sufficiency of the US's provisional arrest request," the Justice Department said in a statement issued in the early hours of Monday. "In light of this, we find their decision to be particularly troubling."
Obama administration officials revealed that federal judges in the eastern district of Virginia secretly issued a warrant for Snowden's arrest on 14 June on charges of unauthorised disclosure of classified information and theft of government property. Multiple US government agencies worked extensively behind the scenes to convince Hong Kong to arrest and extradite Snowden on a warrant also issued on 14 June. But not even a phone call on 19 June placed by attorney general Eric Holder to his Hong Kong counterpart convinced Hong Kong to comply with the US request.
In Washington on Monday, Carney denied that the US would "give up" if Snowden was allowed to leave Russia and revealed that pressure was already being put on Ecuador. "We are in touch through diplomatic and law enforcement channels with countries that might serve as a final destination or transit route," he said.
In heated exchanges, the White House rejected comparisons with its previous support of "political dissidents" made by a Russian journalist at the briefing. "There is a big difference," said Carney. "Snowden has been indicted with a criminal offence".
The Russian journalist was shushed quiet by another reporter in the White House press room when attempting to ask a follow-up question.
June 24, 2013Hasty Exit Started With Pizza Inside a Hong Kong Hideout
By KEITH BRADSHER
HONG KONG — Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who has acknowledged leaking numerous documents about American surveillance operations around the world, planned his escape from Hong Kong over a surreptitious dinner of pizza, fried chicken and sausages, washed down with Pepsi.
It was a cloak-and-dagger affair. Mr. Snowden wore a cap and sunglasses and insisted that the assembled lawyers hide their cellphones in the refrigerator of the home where he was staying, to block any eavesdropping. Then began a two-hour conversation during which Mr. Snowden was deeply dismayed to learn that he could spend years in prison without access to a computer during litigation over whether he would be granted asylum here or surrendered to the United States.
Staying cooped up in the cramped Hong Kong home of a local supporter was less bothersome to Mr. Snowden than the prospect of losing his computer.
“He didn’t go out, he spent all his time inside a tiny space, but he said it was O.K. because he had his computer,” said Albert Ho, one of Mr. Snowden’s lawyers. “If you were to deprive him of his computer, that would be totally intolerable.”
After the meeting, Mr. Ho was sent to ask the Hong Kong government if Mr. Snowden would be released on bail if he were arrested or whether he would be allowed to leave the country.
A person with detailed knowledge of the Hong Kong government’s deliberations said that the government had been delighted to receive the questions. Leung Chun-ying, the chief executive, and his top advisers had been struggling through numerous meetings for days, canceling or postponing other meetings, while trying to decide what to do in response to an American request for Mr. Snowden’s detention, even as public opinion in Hong Kong seemed to favor protecting the fugitive.
But Mr. Snowden’s choice of Mr. Ho to represent him raised a problem, said the person with knowledge of the government’s deliberations, who insisted on anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivities in the case. Mr. Ho, a member of the territory’s legislature for nearly 20 years, is a former chairman of the Democratic Party and a longtime campaigner for full democracy here, to the irritation of government leaders of the territory, which was returned by Britain to China in 1997.
“The Hong Kong government doesn’t trust him,” the person said, adding that the government also did not want to be involved in any direct negotiations with Mr. Snowden. So it found an intermediary, someone with longstanding connections to the local government but not in office, to bypass Mr. Ho and contact Mr. Snowden.
The intermediary told Mr. Snowden on Friday night that the government could not predict what Hong Kong’s independent judiciary would do, but that serving jail time while awaiting trial was a possibility. The intermediary also said that the Hong Kong government would welcome Mr. Snowden’s departure, Mr. Ho and the person who insisted on anonymity said. Both declined to identify the intermediary.
Mr. Snowden went through the same security and immigration channels as most passengers at the airport, rather than a special channel usually used for people involved in highly political cases — a sign that the Hong Kong government wanted to minimize its involvement in Mr. Snowden’s departure, Mr. Ho said.
At the same time, the Hong Kong government’s encouragement for Mr. Snowden to leave had convinced him that staying was risky because the Hong Kong government might not be on his side. “He would not like to fight with the Hong Kong government, with the Chinese government and the U.S. government” against him, Mr. Ho said.
Mr. Ho said that the disclosure late Friday evening of a sealed indictment against Mr. Snowden in the United States had prompted his client to become considerably more anxious about staying in Hong Kong.
Mr. Ho said that if the Hong Kong government had not assured Mr. Snowden of safe passage to the airport and exit from the territory, his client intended to seek the advice of Stephen Young, the United States consul general here, whom Mr. Ho knows socially. But the Hong Kong government’s assurance of safe passage meant that this plan was never discussed in depth, Mr. Ho added.
Obama administration officials expressed annoyance on Sunday that Hong Kong let Mr. Snowden get away. But the person with knowledge of the Hong Kong government’s deliberations said that there was considerable annoyance in Hong Kong about Washington’s handling of the case.
Mr. Ho said that Mr. Snowden had not been working for any government other than the United States. “He believed he was doing the right thing, serving the people,” Mr. Ho said, later adding, “Certainly he is not a spy for anybody — Russia, China.”
Mr. Snowden said in an interview published Monday by The South China Morning Post that he took a job as a contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton in order to gain access to N.S.A. surveillance programs.
“My position with Booz Allen Hamilton granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the N.S.A. hacked,” he said on June 12. “That is why I accepted that position about three months ago.”
Mr. Snowden, who just turned 30, came to Hong Kong from Honolulu without a well-thought-out plan, while overestimating how free he would be to move around Hong Kong after his disclosures and underestimating the public attention he would receive, Mr. Ho added.
“I really think he’s a kid, I think he never anticipated this would be such a big matter in Hong Kong,” Mr. Ho said.
When Mr. Snowden came to Hong Kong from Hawaii in late May, he looked up a person whom he had met on a previous vacation here. That person, whom Mr. Ho declined to identify but described as a well-connected Hong Kong resident, became Mr. Snowden’s “carer.” Mr. Snowden accepted an invitation to stay in the home of one of that person’s friends when he checked out of the Mira Hotel on June 10, and the individual put him in touch with two local lawyers.
They were Robert Tibbo, a barrister who specializes in human rights and refugee law, and Jonathan Man, an associate at Ho Tse Wai, Philip Li & Partners, one of Hong Kong’s best-known law firms.
Mr. Ho, a senior partner at that firm, said he met Mr. Snowden for the first time on the evening of the pizza dinner.
Mr. Snowden said little until they had arrived at a home, where he took Mr. Man aside and told him that “all the phones should be put in the refrigerator, the entire phones, and then he became very outspoken,” Mr. Ho said.
When Mr. Snowden went to the airport, he had a plan to reach a country where he believed he could obtain asylum, partly from discussions with Sarah Harrison, a WikiLeaks adviser who had come to Hong Kong and begun assisting Mr. Snowden, Mr. Ho said. As for Mr. Snowden’s final intended destination, Mr. Ho said that it was almost certainly not Iceland or Cuba and that Mr. Snowden intended only to pass in transit through Moscow. He refused to discuss whether his destination was Ecuador.
***********Edward Snowden leaves reporters chasing shadows around an airport
US whistleblower's rumoured arrival then non-departure from Russia leaves many in Moscow asking: was he ever even here?
Miriam Elder in Moscow
guardian.co.uk, Monday 24 June 2013 16.46 BST
As the Aeroflot jet bound for Havana rolled away from the gate at Sheremetyevo airport, the question became: was he ever even really here?
For more than 24 hours the sprawling international airport on Moscow's northern outskirts was the site of an intricate game of cat-and-mouse. The target: Edward Snowden, sought by an enraged US, which has charged him with leaking classified documents on US surveillance programmes and warned countries suspected of abetting his escape.
The action culminated at 2pm on Monday afternoon outside gate 28, where Snowden was checked in for a flight to Havana, another stopover en route to Venezuela or Ecuador, where he had sought political asylum.
Dozens of journalists assembled at the window, hoping to spot the man who had eluded them for endless hours inside Sheremetyevo's winding halls. Hours later, they imagined, they would have Snowden cornered, ready to spill his innermost thoughts as the plane hurtled towards Havana for a full 12 hours.
The news zoomed through the hall – Russian news agencies reported that Snowden and his travelling companion, Sarah Harrison of WikiLeaks, had checked into seats 17A and 17C. Those seated nearby were giddy.
As the plane started to board, more than a dozen Aeroflot agents converged on the gate and ushered reporters away from the windows.
They threatened to confiscate cameras and telephones, and attempted to block the view. Some journalists said they were ready to hide their telephones in their pants. Anything for a snap of Snowden.
One by one, the journalists got on board – all the world's media, and Russia's too. The line dwindled to a crawl and the Aeroflot agents began to whisper: "He's not on board."
The gate closed. A detachable staircase pulled away from the aircraft. The Airbus began to roll backward. "He's not on board," said Nikolai Sokolov, an Aeroflot gate employee, his eyes wide. "I was waiting for him myself."
Around two dozen journalists settled in for the 12-hour journey to Havana – a flight on which no alcohol is served, much to the chagrin of the reporters, many of whom aren't used to going half a day without a stiff drink.
And, yet again, Snowden was nowhere to be found.
He was reportedly in Moscow for 21 hours but no photographs or video of him have emerged – no leaks from the Federal Security Service or police, who use the website Life News to broadcast the news they want the world to see.
Moscow has made its overtures to Snowden obvious, with Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, repeatedly saying the Kremlin would consider an asylum request from the American, as it would from any other. But the events come amid the worst Russian-US relations since the end of the cold war, with the Kremlin once again making anti-Americanism a central governing pillar. The sight of a US whistleblower, hounded by his own government, being welcomed on Russian soil would be nothing short of a coup.
But was he ever here?
When it emerged on Sunday morning that Snowden had boarded Aeroflot flight SU23 from Hong Kong to Moscow en route to an undisclosed third country, journalists streamed towards the airport. They shoved pictures of Snowden into the faces of disembarking passengers, asking: "Have you seen this man?"
Most shrugged and pushed on through the crowd. Two Spanish men, transiting through Moscow en route to Madrid, thought that maybe one of them had. It was the first suspected sighting of a man who would become a ghost.
Russian news agencies jumped into the story, issuing a host of contradictory information by citing an endless stream of anonymous sources. "Snowden is in the transit area!" "Snowden has been examined by an Ecuadorian doctor." While the Hong Kong-Moscow plane was still in midair, somewhere over the Siberian city of Omsk, the Kremlin's English-language channel, Russia Today, flashed: "Snowden already in Russia – SOURCE."
Journalists were not alone in waiting for Snowden. Outside the transit area in terminal F, a grey branch of the airport that remains frozen in Soviet times, plainclothes officers attempted to blend in. As the day wore on, more and more arrived, some following reporters from a distance, others guarding heavy doors that appeared to lead nowhere.
Snowden is believed to have landed in Moscow shortly after 5pm on Sunday. Lacking a Russian visa, and stripped of his US passport anyway, he could not leave the airport. That left the Capsule Hotel, a newly opened site in Sheremetyevo's terminal E, featuring sparse suites with room for little more than a bed. Receptionists there examined photos of Snowden and said they had never seen him.
As evening began to fall, Ecuador's ambassador to Moscow arrived. He too was seeking Snowden (the country's foreign minister later said it had received an asylum request). He did not know where to find Snowden. He was still waiting in the airport, empty of its daytime rush, at 2am on Monday. It was unclear whether he had, at that point, achieved his goal.
The comparisons began to roll in. It was like that Tom Hanks movie The Terminal, about a stateless man stuck in New York's JFK airport.
Or like that other Tom Hanks movie, Catch Me If You Can. The overtones of Waiting for Godot, about expecting the arrival of a man who never arrives, were, perhaps, too obvious.
Nothing like that was to come. Those chasing Snowden resorted to following ridiculous leads – was that group of Russian agents milling around a handicapped people's bathroom hiding Snowden? That airport employee, rolling a tray with three plates, was she about to feed Snowden, Harrison and an unknown third party? That man with the sunglasses, he kind of looks like him, doesn't he?
By 4pm on Monday, after spending 27 consecutive hours inside Sheremetyevo's barely air-conditioned halls, Lidia Kelly, a journalist with Reuters, squinted her eyes in the direction of an overweight senior citizen and asked: "Wait, is that Julian Assange?"
The hunt for Snowden continues.
************Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa considering request to give Edward Snowden asylum
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, June 24, 2013 20:50 EDT
Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, who has given the United States headaches throughout his tenure, risks more trouble if he grants political asylum to US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.
Much greater powers — China and Russia — have vexed the United States during Snowden’s global cat-and-mouse game, but this Andean nation has defied its giant neighbor to the north since Correa took office in 2007.
The leftist leader already needled Washington last year by giving shelter to a Snowden ally, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, at Ecuador’s embassy in London, protecting him from sexual assault claims in Sweden.
Now Correa, who was re-elected in February, is weighing Snowden’s asylum request and said on Twitter on Monday that he would make the decision “that we deem to be the most appropriate, and fully respecting our sovereignty.”
“This is an anti-imperialist posture that seeks to defend the capacity of small nations to take action in the international arena,” said Michel Levi, a foreign policy expert at the Andina University of Quito.
Relations between the United States and Ecuador reached a low in April 2011, when Quito expelled US ambassador Heather Hodges after WikiLeaks released a diplomatic cable in which she suggested that Correa appointed a new police chief despite knowing he was corrupt.
A new US ambassador was installed last year.
In 2009, Correa ended an arrangement that allowed the United States to operate an anti-drug base on the Pacific coast.
The Snowden case could end any hope of the United States reviving trade benefits under a program that compensates Andean nations that help combat drug production, said Francisco Carrion, professor at the Latin American Social Sciences Faculty.
“There could be other repercussions in trade and investments, with requests for credit from the Inter-American Development Bank rejected by the United States, and a reduction in cooperation,” Carrion said.
Snowden, who revealed a massive US surveillance program, was believed to be heading to Quito when he landed in Moscow, but he was not seen on a flight to Cuba on which he was booked on Monday and his whereabouts are a mystery.
Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino, speaking during a visit to Vietnam, praised Snowden’s actions, saying the 30-year-old fugitive was trying to “shed light and transparency” on US practices.
But Correa has himself been under fire from international rights groups over a new media law that critics say curtails press freedoms by cutting the private sector’s share of radio and TV frequencies.
Marco Romero, director of global studies at Andina University, said the Snowden case puts Ecuador at the center of global debate on the limits of civil liberties when it comes to national security.
But he said Correa’s position also serves “internal (political) consumption” because it contradicts of the criticism of his strained relations with the press.
Correa, who signed the controversial media law on Monday, accuses some news organizations of conspiring against him.
One day after Assange was given asylum last year, Ecuadoran journalist Emilio Palacio was granted asylum by the United States.
Palacio was sentenced to three years in prison and a huge fine for insulting Correa. But at the president’s request, the court annulled the conviction, which also affected three directors of El Universo newspaper.