(Photo: REUTERS/Bobby Yip)
Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who admitted to leaking information about top-secret U.S. surveillance programs, was in Russia Monday morning seeking asylum in Ecuador. However, Moscow has indicated he won't be returned to the U.S. to face charges of espionage.
While Snowden was scheduled to board an Aeroflot flight from Sheremetyevo Airport to Havana, Cuba, early Monday, journalists on board tweeted saying they weren't able to spot him. His request for asylum in Ecuador was also still under consideration.
Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told reporters Monday that Snowden's request was being analyzed, according to The Associated Press. Asked how granting that could affect his country's relations with the U.S., Patino replied, "There are some governments that act more upon their own interests, but we do not." He added, "We act upon our principles…. We take care of human rights of the people."
Meanwhile, the Interfax news agency quoted Russia's human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin as saying that Russia did not have the authority to expel Snowden. "The Americans can't demand anything… Detective stories are good bedtime reading," said Lukin, former ambassador to the U.S.
Snowden left Hong Kong, where he was hiding, to fly to Moscow on Sunday, two days after U.S. prosecutors charged him with theft of government property and two violations of the U.S. Espionage Act.
"He is bound for the Republic of Ecuador via a safe route for the purposes of asylum and is being escorted by diplomats and legal advisers from WikiLeaks," the anti-secrecy group that is helping Snowden said in a statement.
"The United States has been in touch via diplomatic and law enforcement channels with countries in the Western Hemisphere through which Snowden might transit or that could serve as final destinations," Fox News quoted a State Department official as saying. "The U.S. is advising these governments that Snowden is wanted on felony charges, and as such should not be allowed to proceed in any further international travel, other than is necessary to return him to the United States."
Snowden, who worked for defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, fled to Hong Kong on May 20, and took responsibility for leaking information about secret U.S. programs that collect data on all phone calls made on the Verizon network, as well as the Internet data of foreigners from major Internet companies like Microsoft, Google, and Apple.
"We are disappointed by the decision of the authorities in Hong Kong to permit Mr. Snowden to flee despite the legally valid U.S. request to arrest him for purposes of his extradition under the U.S.-Hong Kong Surrender Agreement," National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement late Sunday.
"We now understand Mr. Snowden is on Russian soil," Hayden added. "Given our intensified cooperation after the Boston marathon bombings and our history of working with Russia on law enforcement matters – including returning numerous high-level criminals back to Russia at the request of the Russian government – we expect the Russian Government to look at all options available to expel Mr. Snowden back to the U.S. to face justice for the crimes with which he is charged."
"My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them," Snowden earlier told British newspaper The Guardian, which was the first to publicly identify him at his own request. Snowden also leaked information to The Washington Post.
"Allowing the U.S. government to intimidate its people with threats of retaliation for revealing wrongdoing is contrary to the public interest," Snowden said.