Edward Snowden heads for asylum: Does the US have any options? (+video)
Faced with espionage charges, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden left Hong Kong Sunday for asylum, reportedly in South America. This could leave the US with few options as it tries to prosecute the man who leaked details about top secret surveillance programs.
UPDATE 1:30 PM Reuters reports: "Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said on Sunday that former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden had asked Ecuador for asylum."Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Edward Snowden on the run: villain or hero?
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National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, aided by the WikiLeaks whistleblower organization, has left his hideout in Hong Kong and is hop-scotching his way to South America – all of which has left US officials scrambling for recourse following their failure so far to bring Mr. Snowden back to the US for prosecution on charges of espionage.
"We will continue to discuss this matter with Hong Kong and pursue relevant law enforcement cooperation with other countries where Mr. Snowden may be attempting to travel," Justice Department spokeswoman Nanda Chitre said in a statement Sunday. Neither the White House nor Secretary of State John Kerry had any more to say on the subject by midday.
According to reports by Chinese and Russian news agencies, Mr. Snowden is traveling by commercial air – first to Moscow, then to Havana, and finally to Caracas, Venezuela, where he is expected to be granted asylum.
“Mr. Edward Snowden, the American whistleblower who exposed evidence of a global surveillance regime conducted by US and UK intelligence agencies, has left Hong Kong legally,” WikiLeaks said in a statement Sunday. “He is bound for a democratic nation via a safe route for the purposes of asylum, and is being escorted by diplomats and legal advisors from WikiLeaks.”
Meanwhile, as he was beginning the latest leg on his journey from relative obscurity to worldwide notoriety, the former NSA contractor was revealing more of what he says is a vast network of US surveillance of telephone and Internet information around the world.
In an interview piece published Sunday, the South China Morning Post quoted Snowden as saying the US government is hacking Chinese mobile phone companies to steal millions of text messages.
“There’s far more than this,” Snowden said, referring to his earlier claims that the US had targeted Hong Kong and mainland China. “The NSA does all kinds of things like hack Chinese cell phone companies to steal all of your SMS data.”
It’s just the latest twist in a saga that began earlier this month when Snowden revealed himself as the former NSA analyst who’d exposed top secret US surveillance programs – first to the Washington Post and the British newspaper the Guardian, then via a 12-minute video in which he declared, “I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things.”
Since then, he’s been praised as a heroic whistleblower by supporters and reviled as a traitor by critics and many US lawmakers eager to see him returned to this country for prosecution.