Assange: Edward Snowden is 'marooned in Russia'

Published June 30, 2013 8:21 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Edward Snowden — the fugitive former U.S. intelligence contractor — appears to be stuck in Moscow, unable to leave without a valid American passport, according to interviews Sunday with two men who had sought to aid him: WikiLeaks' Julian Assange and Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa.

Snowden, 30, arrived at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport last weekend, after previously taking refuge in Hong Kong. Moscow was only supposed to be a stopover. WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy organization, had said Snowden was headed on to Ecuador — whose leftist president has been critical of the United States — and that he would seek asylum there.

Now, however, both men said Snowden is unable to leave.

"The United States, by canceling his passport, has left him for the moment marooned in Russia," said Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, on ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos." The United States canceled Snowden's passport last weekend. Assange criticized the United States, saying: "To take a passport from a young man in a difficult situation like that is a disgrace."

Correa spoke to the Associated Press in Puerto Viejo, Ecuador. For now, Correa told the AP, Snowden was "under the care of the Russian authorities."

"This is the decision of Russian authorities. He doesn't have a passport. I don't know the Russian laws, I don't know if he can leave the airport, but I understand that he can't," Correa said. He said that the case was now out of Ecuador's hands. "If Snowden arrives at an Ecuadoran Embassy, we'll analyze his request for asylum."

Snowden traveled from Hong Kong to Moscow on his U.S. passport. Although the U.S. had already revoked it, Hong Kong authorities said they hadn't received the official request to cancel the passport before Snowden left.

An official at the Ecuadoran Embassy in London (where Assange himself has been holed up for a year, avoiding extradition to face sex-crimes charges in Sweden) had also issued a letter of safe passage for Snowden. But Snowden apparently did not use it for his trip to Moscow.

And it doesn't appear that the Ecuadoran government would make a similar gesture again.

On Sunday, Correa told the AP that an Ecuadoran official at that embassy had committed "a serious error" by issuing the first letter without consulting officials back home. Correa said the consul would be punished, although he didn't specify how.

Correa's tone seemed to have shifted after a conversation with Vice President Joe Biden on Friday. Where Correa had earlier been defiant, he now voiced respect for U.S. legal procedures.

"If he really could have broken North American laws, I am very respectful of other countries and their laws, and I believe that someone who breaks the law must assume his responsibilities," Correa said, according to the AP.

Snowden's escape plan — if it could be called a plan — was unlikely from the beginning.

After revealing himself as the leaker, he sought to hopscotch 12,000 miles from Hong Kong to Russia to Ecuador (perhaps by way of Cuba) — evading both U.S. law enforcement and the world's news media on a trip to the other side of the world.

Now, that plan seems to have led Snowden to a Russian airport terminal. And a shrinking set of options.

If he is not actually being detained by Russian authorities — and Russian officials have said that he is not - Snowden could continue to stay in the airport. Officially, he would not have entered Russia, since he would not have crossed passport control.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Snowden is free to leave again by plane — if he can buy an airline ticket. But, to buy a ticket, Snowden would probably need a valid passport, and he now doesn't have one.

Snowden could also try to exit by land. If he could get past passport control, he might make it to the Ecuadoran Embassy — or simply apply for asylum in Russia. There have been mixed signals on that front: A spokesman for Putin said Sunday that Snowden is not the Kremlin's concern. But the spokesman also said that public opinion must be taken into account in deciding what to do with him.

That could perhaps be a nod toward the possibility of asylum. Or not.

This month, U.S. authorities charged Snowden with "theft, "unauthorized communication of national defense information" and "willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person."

The charges were filed in the federal court in Alexandria, Va., whose jurisdiction includes the headquarters of contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, Snowden's former employer. On Sunday, Assange argued that the Alexandria court was fundamentally hostile to cases like Snowden's.

"The jury pool is made up of the CIA, Pentagon, etc.," Assange said. "There's a 99 percent chance that — a 99.97 percent chance that if you're a target of the grand jury you'll be indicted. And a 99 percent chance that if you're indicted by a grand jury you will be convicted."

The Department of Justice did not immediately respond Sunday when asked whether Assange's statistics were accurate.

Assange said that WikiLeaks also had been in contact with Snowden's father, Lonnie Snowden, who told the "Today" show that he felt his son was being manipulated by WikiLeaks.

"We have established contact with Mr. Snowden's father's lawyer to put some of his concerns to rest," Assange said. "But, I mean, this isn't a situation that, you know, WikiLeaks is in charge of, if you like. This is a matter for states at a very serious level to understand and sort out and behave responsibly."

Assange was asked by Stephanopoulos whether WikiLeaks was in possession of other secrets that Snowden took with him.

"Look, there is no stopping the publishing process at this stage," Assange said. "Great care has been taken to make sure that Mr. Snowden can't be pressured by any state to stop the publication process."