Snowden’s Search For Asylum Is Fruitless So Far

Several countries on Tuesday spurned asylum requests from Edward Snowden, the former U.S. spy agency contractor wanted for leaking secrets, despite an appeal from Venezuela for the world to protect him.

Snowden, who revealed the secret U.S. electronic surveillance program Prism, has applied for political asylum in more than a dozen countries in his search for safety from the espionage charges in the United States.

The 30-year-old is in legal limbo in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, unable to fly on to a hoped-for destination in Latin America because he has no legal travel documents and no Russian visa to leave the airport.

On Monday, he broke a nine-day silence since arriving in Moscow from Hong Kong, challenging Washington by saying he was free to publish more about its programs and that he was being illegally persecuted.

That ruled out a prolonged stay in Russia, where a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin said Snowden had withdrawn his request for asylum after the Russian leader said he should give up his “anti-American activity”.

But while country after country denied his asylum requests on technical grounds, Venezuela, part of an alliance of leftist governments in Latin America, said it was time to stop berating a man who has “done something very important for humanity”.

“He deserves the world’s protection,” President Nicolas Maduro told Reuters during a visit to Moscow.

“He has a right to protection because the United States in its actions is persecuting him…Why are they persecuting him? What has he done? Did he launch a missile and kill someone? Did he rig a bomb and kill someone? No. He is preventing war.”

Maduro said he would consider an asylum application. Snowden’s request for safety in Ecuador, which has sheltered the founder of antisecrecy group WikiLeaks Julian Assange in its London embassy, has seemingly ended.

U.S. President Barack Obama has made clear to a number of countries that granting him asylum would carry costs.

“MISTAKE”

Snowden has prepared asylum requests in countries including India, China, Brazil, Ireland, Austria, Bolivia, Cuba, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Spain, Switzerland and Venezuela, WikiLeaks has said.

But several countries, including Snowden’s favored Ecuador, said on Tuesday they could not consider an asylum request from Snowden unless he was on their territory.

Norway said he was unlikely to get asylum there, and Poland said it would not give a “positive recommendation” to any request. Finland, Spain, Ireland and Austria said he had to be in their countries to make a request, while India said “we see no reason” to accept his petition.

France said it had not received a request.

Officials in Russia, which has made clear it wants Snowden to leave, say an embassy car would be considered foreign territory if a country picked him up – possibly a message to leaders of oil-producing countries in Moscow for talks this week.

Snowden’s options have narrowed sharply.

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa was quoted in Britain’s Guardian newspaper on Monday as saying he could not consider the asylum request and that giving Snowden a temporary travel pass to fly to Moscow was “a mistake on our part”.

“Are we responsible for getting him to Ecuador? It’s not logical,” he said, adding that Snowden was now Moscow’s problem.

Moscow is unwilling to send Snowden to the United States, a move that could make it look weak, and has no extradition treaty with Washington. But it also does not want to damage ties with the United States over a man with whom Putin, a former KGB spy, has little sympathy.

At a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Brunei, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he had raised Snowden “from our point of view” despite the affair not being in their domain.

“Russia has never extradited anyone, is not extraditing anyone and will not extradite anyone,” Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters.

Peskov said Snowden showed no sign of stopping releasing secret U.S. documents and added that he had abandoned his intention of staying in Russia.

In an undated letter to Ecuador’s Correa seen by Reuters, Snowden said he was “dedicated to the fight for justice in this unequal world”. “I remain free and able to publish information that serves the public interest,” Snowden said in the letter.

Russia Defiant As U.S. Raises Pressure Over Snowden

Russia defied White House pressure on Monday to expel former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden to the United States before he flees Moscow on the next stop of his globe-crossing escape from U.S. prosecution.

Snowden, whose exposure of secret U.S. government surveillance raised questions about intrusion into private lives, was allowed to leave Hong Kong on Sunday after Washington asked the Chinese territory to arrest him on espionage charges.

Snowden, 29, has kept out of sight in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport as Ecuador says it considers his request for asylum.

His decision to fly to Russia, which like China challenges U.S. dominance of global diplomacy, is another embarrassment to President Barack Obama who has tried to “reset” ties with Moscow and build a partnership with Beijing.

The White House said it expected the Russian government to send Snowden back to the United States and lodged “strong objections” to Hong Kong and China for letting him go.

“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,” said Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council.

The Russian government ignored the appeal and President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary denied any knowledge of Snowden’s movements.

Asked if Snowden had spoken to the Russian authorities, Peskov said: “Overall, we have no information about him.”

He declined comment on the expulsion request but other Russian officials said Moscow had no obligation to cooperate with Washington after it passed legislation to impose visa bans and asset freezes on Russians accused of violating human rights.

“Why should the United States expect restraint and understanding from Russia?” said Alexei Pushkov, the head of the foreign affairs committee in the lower house of parliament.

Putin has missed few chances to champion public figures who challenge Western governments and to portray Washington as an overzealous global policeman. But Russian leaders have not paraded Snowden before the cameras or trumpeted his arrival.

ECUADOR’S ROLE

Since leaving Hong Kong, where he feared arrest and extradition, Snowden has been searching for a country which can guarantee his security.

Ecuador said it had received an asylum request and Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino, on a trip to Vietnam, said it would be analyzed with a “lot of responsibility”. He was expected to hold a news conference around 7.00 p.m. (8 a.m. EDT) in Hanoi.

A source at Russian airline Aeroflot said Snowden was booked on a flight due to depart for Havana on Monday at 2:05 p.m. (6.05 a.m. EDT). The gate for the Cuba flight was blocked and security was tightened.

A State Department official said Washington had told countries in the Western Hemisphere that Snowden “should not be allowed to proceed in any further international travel, other than is necessary to return him to the United States”.

Despite the Kremlin denials, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer said Putin had probably known about and approved Snowden’s flight to Russia.

“Putin always seems almost eager to stick a finger in the eye of the United States,” Schumer, a senior Senate Democrat, told CNN’s “State of the Union”. He also saw “the hand of Beijing” in Hong Kong’s decision to let Snowden leave.

But taking the higher ground after being accused of hacking computers abroad, the Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed “grave concern” over Snowden’s allegations that the United States had hacked computers in China.

It said it had taken up the issue with Washington.

CHILL

Some Russians have praised Snowden’s revelations. Others fear a new chill in relations with the United States.

“We are a pretty stubborn country and so is the United States. Both are mighty countries, so I would say this has a good potential to turn into a big fuss in bilateral relations,” said Ina Sosna, manager of a Moscow cleaning company.

“I guess it would be best if they just let him move on from Russia to avoid any more controversy over him being here.”

Snowden was aided in his escape by WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy organization whose founder Julian Assange said he had helped to arrange documents from Ecuador.

Ecuador, like Cuba and Venezuela, is a member of the ALBA bloc, an alliance of leftist governments in Latin America that pride themselves on their “anti-imperialist” credentials. The Quito government has been sheltering Assange at its London embassy for the past year.

The New York Times quoted Assange as saying in an interview that his group had arranged for Snowden to travel on a “special refugee document” issued by Ecuador last Monday.

U.S. sources said Washington had revoked Snowden’s passport. WikiLeaks said diplomats and Sarah Harrison, a British legal researcher working for the anti-secrecy group, accompanied him.

Snowden, who had worked at a U.S. National Security Agency facility in Hawaii, had been hiding in Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to China in 1997, since leaking details about secret U.S. surveillance programs to news media.

Snowden has been charged with theft of federal government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence to an unauthorized person, with the latter two charges falling under the U.S. Espionage Act.