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Irrespective of what happens to fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden, the information he has about top-secret U.S. surveillance programs will continue to be published, said WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, calling the former NSA contractor "a hero."
"Look, there is no stopping the publishing process at this stage," Assange said during an interview with ABC's "This Week" show on Sunday, of Snowden's exposé about a variety of classified intelligence programs, including the interception of U.S. and European telephone metadata and the PRISM and Tempora Internet surveillance programs.
"Great care has been taken to make sure that Mr. Snowden can't be pressured by any state to stop the publication process," Assange said, and added that Snowden "is a hero." "He has told the people of the world and the United States that there is mass unlawful interception of their communications, far beyond anything that happened under Nixon."
Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who first published leaks by Snowden, has said the former NSA contractor has distributed encrypted copies of his files in case anything happened to him. They "cannot access them yet because they are highly encrypted and they do not have the passwords… if anything happens at all to Edward Snowden, he told me he has arranged for them to get access to the full archives," the journalist told The Daily Beast.
Assange also criticized the United States for revoking the passport of Snowden, who is believed to be in a transit area of the Moscow airport and has requested asylum in Ecuador. "Is that really a great outcome by the State Department? …Mr. Snowden has not been convicted of anything," he said.
Snowden left Hong Kong, where he was hiding since he admitted to leaking the information, and flew to Moscow on June 23, two days after U.S. prosecutors charged him with theft of government property and two violations of the U.S. Espionage Act.
Snowden traveled to Russian with an Ecuadorean travel document, which has been declared invalid by Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, according to Reuters. Correa was quoted as saying Sunday that Snowden's fate is in the hands of Russian authorities, and a decision on his asylum can be taken only after he reaches Ecuador or an Ecuadorean embassy.
"He's in the international area of the Moscow airport, but basically under the care of the Russian authorities," Correa told New York Times. "Strictly speaking, the case is not in our hands."
Russian leaders have said the transit zone of the Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow is technically outside Russia's borders.
A Russian immigration official told the Times Snowden would be allowed to remain at the transit area indefinitely if he wanted.
President Obama's national security adviser Tom Donilon said Snowden should be returned to the United States "because he's wanted here for a crime," according to Reuters.
Snowden, who worked for defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, fled to Hong Kong on May 20. "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 told The Guardian after coming forward as the source. "Allowing the U.S. government to intimidate its people with threats of retaliation for revealing wrongdoing is contrary to the public interest."