Edward Snowden, the former CIA employee wanted by US authorities on charges of espionage and theft of government property, is receiving assistance from the folks behind whistleblowing site WikiLeaks as he attempts to make it to a ‘safe’ country before the US intelligence agencies make it to him.
Snowden, the man at the center of what many consider to be the most significant intelligence leak in US history, arrived in Moscow on Sunday after flying from Hong Kong, the location of his media interviews that revealed details of the National Security Agency’s top secret PRISM program involving the systematic surveillance of telephone calls and Internet communications.
The 30-year-old whistleblower told the Guardian and Washington Post the NSA has “direct access” to the servers of Internet giants such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple, though these companies have said that any passing of information between them and the government is always done within the framework of existing laws, and that no such “back door” access is possible.
On its Twitter feed Sunday, WikiLeaks said it was providing assistance to Snowden in his quest to find a ‘safe’ country.
“WikiLeaks has assisted Mr. Snowden’s political asylum in a democratic country, travel papers and safe exit from Hong Kong,” the tweet said.
It’s believed Snowden will depart Russia Monday afternoon Moscow time on a flight bound for Cuba, with Ecuador likely to be his final destination – if the US fails to disrupt plans. A tweet on Sunday from Ecuador’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, confirmed that his government had received an asylum request from Snowden, with WikiLeaks adding that the request would be dealt with upon his arrival in the country. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has already been granted asylum by the Latin American nation, though he’s currently holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London fearing deportation to Sweden – and possibly ultimately to the US – if he steps outside the building.
The US issued a provisional arrest warrant for the former Hawaii resident on Friday, and asked authorities in Hong Kong to detain him. However, Hong Kong said that after finding the US request to be incomplete there had been no legal basis to keep Snowden in the Chinese territory, and so allowed him to leave.
According to US Senator Charles Schumer, Snowden’s flight to Moscow was probably known about and approved of by Russian president Vladimir Putin.
“Putin always seems almost eager to stick a finger in the eye of the United States – whether it’s Syria, Iran and now of course with Snowden,” the New York Democrat told CNN. He also said he saw “the hand of Beijing” in Hong Kong’s decision to let the former CIA technician leave despite America’s request to detain him.