Kerry Reproaches Russia as Ecuador Considers Snowden Asylum Bid
By Bloomberg News - Jun 24, 2013 8:46 AM ET
The U.S. lashed out at Russia for allowing former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden to transit through Moscow as Ecuador considered his bid for asylum.
Snowden, who had been booked to fly from Moscow to Havana today after arriving from Hong Kong yesterday, didn’t board the flight at Sheremetyevo International Airport, said an official for state-owned OAO Aeroflot, asking not to be identified because the information is confidential.
Edward Snowden, a former technical assistant for the Central Intelligence Agency, speaks during an interview in Hong Kong in this handout photo provided by The Guardian. Source: The Guardian via Getty Images
He may have already left Russia, the Interfax news service reported, citing a person familiar with the situation. That contradicted a report by the state-run news service RIA Novosti that cited an unidentified Sheremetyevo official as saying Snowden failed to board the flight after checking in and remains in the air hub’s transit zone.
With the whereabouts of the fugitive whistleblower unknown, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Russia to abide by the standards of the law by expelling Snowden to the U.S. He spoke a day after New York Senator Charles Schumer, the third-ranked Democrat in the Senate, said he thought PresidentVladimir Putin may have known and approved of Snowden’s flight.
Russia, which doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the U.S., didn’t respond to U.S. pleas to expel Snowden to his homeland a month after he fled and revealed National Security Agency surveillance of Americans and foreign citizens. The decision to let Snowden leave Hong Kong may add to strains with Chinaover cyber-espionage discussed at a meeting earlier this month between President Barack Obama and Xi Jinping.
Ecuador will “act upon our principles” in Snowden’s case, Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino Aroca said in Hanoi today. The Latin American country’s embassy in London has been sheltering the founder of anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, for more than a year after granting him asylum.
A television journalist conducts a live report near a flight information board at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow on June 23, 2013. Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked secret documents on U.S. surveillance, wasn’t seen among other passengers exiting after the plane he was believed to be on had landed at 5:03 p.m. Moscow time. Photographer: Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr./Bloomberg
Snowden arrived in Moscow yesterday on an Aeroflot flight after Hong Kong rejected a U.S. warrant to arrest him. Russia doesn’t require a transit visa of U.S. citizens passing through one international airport in the country and departing within 24 hours without leaving the customs zone, according to the U.S. State Department’s website. Those arriving without an entry visa face the risk of immediate deportation.
Kerry said it would be “deeply troubling” if Russia had advance notice of Snowden’s arrival in Moscow and “notwithstanding that, they make the decision willfully to ignore that and not live by the standards of the law.”
The top U.S. diplomat also took a shot at China, saying “it would be very disappointing if he was willfully allowed to board an airplane,” speaking at a joint press conference in New Delhi with Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid.
U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said that the Obama administration had lodged “strong objections” to the authorities in Hong Kong as well as to the Chinese government after Hong Kong allowed him to leave. She said that such behavior is detrimental to the U.S. bilateral relations with Hong Kong and China.
The Russian Foreign Ministry declined to comment. President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman,Dmitry Peskov, who has said that Russia may consider granting Snowden political asylum, wouldn’t take phone calls after earlier saying he had no information on his travel plans.
Albert Ho, a lawyer and Hong Kong legislator who said he was acting on behalf of Snowden, told reporters that the American was notified late last week by a government representative that he should leave and that he would be given safe passage.
Ho said that if Snowden’s departure were orchestrated by the Chinese government, it would have been done behind the scenes so as not to aggravate Sino-U.S. ties. “The Hong Kong government may not have had any role other than acting on instructions not to stop him at the airport,” he said.
Snowden, the former Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp. (BAH) employee who had also worked for the Central Intelligence Agency, fled to Hong Kong in May and identified himself as the source for revelations about programs to collect telephone and Internet data. He later said the U.S. had hacked Chinese and Hong Kong targets since 2009 and had tapped Chinese mobile phone companies to steal millions of text messages, according to the South China Morning Post.
He landed at Sheremetyevo yesterday evening and was booked on the Havana flight and an onward connection to Caracas, Venezuela, according to the Aeroflot representative. Several dozen reporters, both Russian and foreign, bought tickets on the Havana flight, which Snowden didn’t board.
“Snowden’s stopover in Moscow is just one more piece of evidence that Putin can’t pass up a chance to tweak his ‘partner’ Obama,” Strobe Talbott, former deputy secretary of state during the Bill Clinton administration who is now president of the Brookings Institution, said on his Twitter Inc. account.
Russia and the U.S. are already at odds after Obama’s administration said earlier this month it will supply weapons to Syria’s opposition. The two former Cold War foes, which are now arming opposing sides in Syria, are struggling to keep alive an initiative to stage a peace conference and end a conflict that has killed more than 90,000.
Former Russian ambassador to Washington, Vladimir Lukin, who serves as a human rights ombudsman, said the U.S. has no right to demand anything from Russia in this case. “We can hand him over or not hand him over,” Lukin was cited as saying by Interfax.
Snowden is planning to travel to Ecuador, according to a statement from WikiLeaks, which said its representatives will accompany him.
“The WikiLeaks legal team and I are interested in preserving Mr. Snowden’s rights and protecting him as a person,” former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon, legal director of the anti-secrecy group and lawyer for its founder, Julian Assange, said on WikiLeaks’ website. “What is being done to Mr. Snowden and to Mr. Julian Assange — for making or facilitating disclosures in the public interest — is an assault against the people.”
Snowden’s departure from Hong Kong followed a disclosure by U.S. authorities that prosecutors had filed charges against him in a Virginia federal court. The charges included government theft and espionage for Snowden’s role in disclosing the classified details of a phone records collection program, as well as an Internet monitoring program that targeted foreign-based individuals suspected of terrorism.
“The chase is on,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein said in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
The Hong Kong government said the U.S. “did not fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law,” leaving the city “no legal basis to restrict Mr. Snowden from leaving” because it lacked the information to justify the U.S. request for a provisional warrant to detain him, according to a statement yesterday.
Snowden’s U.S. passport has been revoked, according to an American official who spoke on condition of anonymity. He faces as many as 10 years in prison on the theft count and 10 years on each of two espionage charges.
Representative Peter King, a New York Republican who serves on both the House Intelligence and Homeland Security committees, said in an interview on Bloomberg TV today that the decision to let Snowden leave Hong Kong will hurt U.S.-China ties.
“To allow him out of the country one or two days after extradition papers were served is not good faith, and for some reason Hong Kong and China wanted to let Snowden get away and this is a direct slap at the U.S.,” King said.
Under the “one country-two systems” arrangement, Hong Kong has its own legal system even as China retains ultimate sovereignty and dictates its foreign policy. At the same time, Hong Kong has an extradition treaty with the U.S. that dates back to 1996, the year before it returned to Chinese control.
Snowden, in media interviews and in an Internet question-and-answer session on the Guardian’s website last week, has said he disclosed the programs because he believed the NSA and other U.S. intelligence agencies were violating the rights of U.S. citizens with the scope and reach of the information collection.
Snowden’s revelations led China to file a protest to the U.S., Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement yesterday. In an indication of China’s attitude toward Snowden’s case, China’s government-controlled Global Times newspaper said in an editorial today said his decision to blow the whistle benefited the world and shows that China must catch up in network security.
The case against Snowden is U.S. v Snowden, 13-cr-265, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria).
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