June 24, 2013

Snowden not on Cuba flight, whereabouts unclear

The Associated Press

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The Aeroflot Airbus A330 plane that was to carry National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden on a flight to Havana, Cuba, parked at the gates at Sheremetyevo airport, Moscow, Monday, June 24, 2013. Snowden, who arrived in Moscow on Sunday from Hong Kong, booked a seat for the flight to Cuba, but he was not seen on the plane. (AP Photo/ Sergei Ivanov)

Edward Snowden
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Edward Snowden arrived in Moscow on Sunday from Hong Kong, where he had been hiding for several weeks to evade U.S. justice.

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The controversy over Snowden could further hurt U.S.-Russian relations, already strained over arguments about Syria and a ban on U.S. adoptions of Russian children.

The Kremlin has previously said Russia would be ready to consider Snowden's request for asylum.

Aeroflot said earlier that Snowden had registered for the flight using his American passport, which the United States recently annulled.

Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said his government had received an asylum request, adding Monday that the decision "has to do with freedom of expression and with the security of citizens around the world."

Ecuador has rejected the United States' previous efforts at cooperation, and has been helping Assange avoid prosecution by allowing him to stay at its embassy in London.

But Assange's comments in a telephone conference with reporters that Snowden had applied in multiple places opened other possibilities of where he might try to go.

WikiLeaks has said that it is providing legal help to Snowden at his request and that he was being escorted by diplomats and legal advisers from the group.

Icelandic officials have confirmed receiving an informal request for asylum conveyed by WikiLeaks, which has strong links to the tiny North Atlantic nation. But authorities there have insisted that Snowden must be on Icelandic soil before lodging a formal request.

Snowden gave documents to The Guardian and The Washington Post newspapers disclosing U.S. surveillance programs that collect vast amounts of phone records and online data in the name of foreign intelligence, often sweeping up information on American citizens.

Officials have the ability to collect phone and Internet information broadly but need a warrant to examine specific cases where they believe terrorism is involved.

Snowden had been in hiding for several weeks in Hong Kong, a former British colony with a high degree of autonomy from mainland China.

The United States formally sought Snowden's extradition from Hong Kong to face espionage charges but was rebuffed; Hong Kong officials said the U.S. request did not fully comply with their laws.

The Justice Department rejected that claim, saying its request met all of the requirements of the extradition treaty between the U.S. and Hong Kong.

As for Russia, Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said, "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."

Still, the United States is likely to have problems interrupting Snowden's passage. The United States does not have an extradition treaty with Russia, but does with Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador. Even with an extradition agreement though, any country could give Snowden a political exemption.

It also wasn't clear Snowden was finished disclosing highly classified information.

Snowden has perhaps more than 200 sensitive documents, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

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