June 24, 2013

White House urges Moscow to send Snowden back to U.S.

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The U.S. grasped for help Monday from both adversaries and uneasy allies in an effort to catch fugitive National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden. The White House demanded that he be denied asylum, blasted China for letting him go and urged Russia to "do the right thing" and send him back to America to face espionage charges.

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A TV screen shows a news report of Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee who leaked top-secret documents about sweeping U.S. surveillance programs, at a shopping mall in Hong Kong Sunday, June 23, 2013. The U.S. assumes NSA leaker Edward Snowden remains in Russia, and officials are working to have him returned to America to face criminal charges. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

AP

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Snowden was believed to be in Russia, where he fled Sunday after weeks of hiding out in Hong Kong following his disclosure of the broad scope of two highly classified counterterror surveillance programs to two newspapers. The programs collect vast amounts of Americans' phone records and worldwide online data in the name of national security.

Snowden had flown from Hong Kong to Russia, and was expected to fly early Monday to Havana, from where he would continue on to Ecuador, where he has applied for asylum. But he didn't get on that plane and his exact whereabouts were unclear.

The founder of WikiLeaks, the secret-spilling organization that has embraced Snowden, said the American was only passing through Russia on his way to an unnamed destination to avoid the reach of U.S. authorities. Julian Assange said Snowden had applied for asylum in Ecuador, Iceland and possibly other countries.

Despite its diplomatic tough talk, the U.S. faces considerable difficulty in securing cooperation on Snowden from nations with whom it has chilly relations.

The White House said Hong Kong's refusal to detain Snowden had "unquestionably" hurt relations between the United States and China. While Hong Kong has a high degree of autonomy from the rest of China, experts said Beijing probably orchestrated Snowden's exit in an effort to remove an irritant in Sino-U.S. relations. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping met earlier this month in California to smooth over rough patches in the countries' relationship, including allegations of hacking into each other's computer systems.

Secretary of State John Kerry urged Moscow to "do the right thing" amid high-level pressure on Russia to turn over Snowden.

"We're following all the appropriate legal channels and working with various other countries to make sure that the rule of law is observed," Obama told reporters when asked if he was confident that Russia would expel Snowden.

Obama's spokesman, Jay Carney, said the U.S. was expecting the Russians "to look at the options available to them to expel Mr. Snowden back to the United States to face justice for the crimes with which he is charged."

Carney was less measured about China.

"The Chinese have emphasized the importance of building mutual trust," he said. "And we think that they have dealt that effort a serious setback. ...This 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 U.S.-China relationship."

Snowden has acknowledged revealing details of top-secret surveillance programs that sweep up millions of phone and Internet records daily. He is a former CIA employee who later was hired as a contractor through Booz Allen to be a computer systems analyst. In that job, he gained access to documents – many of which he has given to The Guardian and The Washington Post to expose what he contends are privacy violations by an authoritarian government.

Snowden also told the South China Morning Post that "the NSA does all kinds of things like hack Chinese cellphone companies to steal all of your SMS data," and is believed to have more than 200 additional sensitive documents.

Assange and attorneys for WikiLeaks assailed the U.S. as "bullying" foreign nations into refusing asylum to Snowden. WikiLeaks counsel Michael Ratner said Snowden is protected as a whistleblower by the same international treaties that the U.S. has in the past used to criticize policies in China and African nations.

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