Venezuela, Nicaragua offer Edward Snowden asylum. For real?

The leaders of Venezuela and Nicaragua have offered asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden. But are the offers genuine, or just a way to tweak their powerful neighbor to the north?

By , Staff writer

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    NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden during an interview by the Guardian in Hong Kong June 6. President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela and President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua have offered asylum to the former US intelligence contractor in defiance of Washington, which is demanding his arrest for divulging details of secret US spy programs.
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Things may be looking up for National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden in his search for a place to live protected from prosecution by the US government.

The leaders of Venezuela and Nicaragua have offered asylum to the former NSA contractor who 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.”

Still, a possible end to Mr. Snowden’s stateless situation – he remains without a visa or a valid passport in the transit section of the Moscow airport – is by no means settled.

Recommended: NSA surveillance 101: What US intelligence agencies are doing, what they know

Statements by President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela and President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua were vague – designed by those countries’ leftist leaders as much as anything to tweak their powerful neighbor to the north.

"As head of state, the government of the Bolívarian Republic of Venezuela decided to offer humanitarian asylum to the young American Edward Snowden so that he can live in the homeland" of independence leader Simon Bolívar and the late President Hugo Chávez without "persecution from the empire," Mr. Maduro said, referring to the United States.

In Nicaragua, Mr. Ortega said asylum would be offered "if circumstances allow it." 

"We have the sovereign right to help a person who felt remorse after finding out how the United States was using technology to spy on the whole world, and especially its European allies," Ortega said.

Analysts were largely skeptical of Ortega’s offer, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

"It is an ambiguous statement, that is consistent with his rhetoric of provoking the US and in practice doing everything to maintain good relations," journalist and political analyst Carlos Fernando Chamorro told the newspaper. “Mr. Chamorro also said it was unlikely that Ortega would try to defy the US at a moment when it is trying to win Washington's confidence in a project to build an interoceanic canal through Nicaragua with the help of a Chinese businessman.”

Wherever Snowden might be headed, circumstances involving his possible exit from Russia remain tricky. It’s unclear whether Cuba would allow a refueling stop en route to Central or South America.

As was shown this past week, flying from Moscow through European airspace – through countries that have extradition treaties with the US – could be a problem for Snowden if Washington continues to pressure those countries not to facilitate his escape from prosecution.

One alternative flight plan avoiding European airspace would involve an aircraft taking off from Moscow, refueling in Vladivostok, and then continuing east over the Pacific to South America.

In all, Snowden has applied for asylum to some 20 countries.

Whistle-blower website WikiLeaks said in a message posted to Twitter on Friday that Snowden had put in asylum applications to six new countries. WikiLeaks that it wouldn't be identifying the countries involved "due to attempted U.S. interference."

Icelandic lawmakers introduced a proposal in parliament on Thursday to grant immediate citizenship to Snowden, but the idea received minimal support.

In federal court two weeks ago, Snowden was charged with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information, and willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person. The latter two offenses fall under the US Espionage Act and can bring as many as 10 years in prison.

While Snowden is seen as a whistle-blowing hero by many supporters around the world where demonstrations against US spying have been held, the view of Snowden among Americans is becoming less supportive, according to recent polls.

A HuffPost/YouGov Poll conducted earlier this week has a plurality (38 percent) agreeing that Snowden did the wrong thing in leaking top-secret information. A plurality (48 percent) also said Snowden should be prosecuted. Those numbers are higher than in an earlier poll showing more support for Snowden.

In Washington, meanwhile, there has been little effort to rein in the NSA program sweeping vast amounts of private information from e-mails and Internet activity.

“Edward Snowden’s nightmare may be coming true,” writes Philip Ewing on Politico.com. “Not exile; not the danger of imprisonment or prosecution; and not his newfound association with dictators, lawyers and impresarios. Snowden’s worst fear, by his own account, was that ‘nothing will change.’”

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