The former National Security Agency contractor who admitted to handing over classified documents to reporters is leading an international game of hide-and-seek as he runs from U.S. prosecution. Edward Snowden was believed to be in Moscow on Monday morning, and failed to appear on a planned flight to Cuba, according to reports.
Snowden had flown to Moscow from Hong Kong on Sunday in an effort to avoid extradition to the United States. On Friday, U.S. prosecutors announced charges against Snowden for violating the Espionage Act by releasing secret intelligence documents. The documents revealed how the U.S. government uses internet and phone data to conduct often-broad surveillance in its fight against terrorism.
Snowden had spent several weeks in Hong Kong, where he staged his intelligence leak. Although Hong Kong has an extradition agreement with the United States, on Sunday officials in the semiautonomous Chinese territory said the extradition request filed by the United States “did not fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law.”
With assistance from WikiLeaks, an anti-secrecy organization, Snowden is seeking political asylum in a country that is willing to harbor him from the U.S. Justice Department. An Ecuadorian official announced on Twitter that Snowden had applied to Ecuador for asylum. (At its London embassy, Ecuador is also harboring Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, who is wanted in Sweden on sexual assault charges.)
Snowden had reportedly bought a ticket for an Aeroflot flight bound on Monday morning for Havana, Cuba—a stop on the way to Ecuador. But after a rush of reporters purchased tickets for the same flight, Snowden failed to take his seat on the plane. His current whereabouts are unknown.
“Given our intensified cooperation after the Boston Marathon bombings and our history of working with Russia on law enforcement matters—including returning numerous high-level criminals back to Russia at the request of the Russian government—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 a spokeswoman for the U.S. National Security Council. The U.S. State Department has also warned nations in the Western Hemisphere not to assist Snowden in his flight.
Russian officials have denied knowledge of Snowden’s whereabouts.
In the United States, the public is divided in its opinion of Snowden, with some viewing him a traitor for leaking top-secret intelligence documents, and others as a hero for lifting the lid on government surveillance programs.