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4 options for the U.S. to get Snowden back

By CNN Staff
updated 8:57 AM EDT, Tue June 25, 2013
  • Demands, diplomacy, extradition are among options to get Snowden back to face charges
  • Russia may be best option; other countries mentioned have difficult relations with the United States
  • Snowden flew from Hong Kong to Moscow; His passport has been revoked
  • Military option of forcing any plane carrying Snowden to land is unlikely, expert says

(CNN) -- As admitted NSA leaker Edward Snowden bides his time, presumably in Moscow, President Barack Obama expresses hope that other countries will follow the letter of the law and turn over the former national security contractor to the United States.

Truth is, there aren't many real options for the United States in getting Snowden back to face espionage charges.

Here are actions the United States could pursue and why they most likely wouldn't work:

Demands for Snowden to return

Obama risks his and national prestige by directly calling for a country to release Snowden to the United States and to have those demands fall on deaf ears.

"It's dangerous for the president to become overexposed," said Anthony Cordesman, chairman of strategic studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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"If he takes a stand, if he makes threats, if he calls on other countries to essentially return something like Snowden, the problem is he can compromise his prestige, that of the country, and basically be exposed to all kinds of statements about free speech," he said.

Cordesman said there's not much to gain and lots to lose by making a high-profile push to get Snowden back in the United States to face charges.

"We have forced him effectively into exile -- there's not much to be gained from pushing this issue, particularly if you cannot be certain of success," he said. "The harder you press, the more you publicize this issue, the more you have effectively put America's prestige at stake."

Cordesman said the effort to get him back may hinge on what Snowden may know, if anything new.

"What does he know about sources and methods, which are not really of interest to the media or the Congress or the American public. But often very small amounts of information he may have as to how the intelligence community operates can be put in the context of other counter intelligence efforts in countries like Russia and China," he said.

Snowden keeps much of the world guessing


While it's true that the United States has treaties and agreements with Russia and other countries, those agreements aren't always followed.

After the U.S. charged Snowden with espionage and revoked his passport, Hong Kong still allowed Snowden to board a flight for Russia. Officials later said they hadn't been informed that his passport had been revoked.

"This is much more of a political and diplomatic matter than it is a legal matter," CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said. "In an ordinary case, sure, you need a passport to get around. But here, where this case is causing increasing embarrassment for the United States, governments that want the United States to be embarrassed are only too happy to waive some of the technical legal rules."

Toobin said the matter is going to be decided by whatever government controls Snowden.

"He is now in Russia, a country that has very frosty relations with the United States now. He's thinking of going to Cuba, to Ecuador. It's obvious why he's picking those countries, because those are countries that have frosty or even worse relationships with the United States.

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"So it's really not a question of the legal -- the legal rights of the United States to extradite him, it's a question of do these governments want to turn him over. He's in a country that doesn't want to turn him over, at least not now. And he wants to get another country that doesn't want to do it," Toobin said.

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Quiet negotiation between the United States and Russia, or wherever Snowden ends up, is the most likely scenario, experts say.

"It would probably be that there would be some arrangement through whatever country he ends up in where the United States, through diplomatic means, offers some kind of quid pro quo, some kind of guarantee as to his status and how he will be prosecuted and there is essentially the same kind of implied debt as there is when we exchange spies," Cordesman said.

"It has to be taken at the diplomatic level, there have to be quiet quid pro quos, and the more they are kept from the media, the better," he said.

That's probably already going on behind the scenes because there is a better chance of getting Snowden back from Russia than from some of the other countries in which he's reportedly seeking asylum.

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Military action

Highly unlikely, experts say.

The U.S. military could take the extraordinary stop of trying to intercept Snowden's flight and force it to land or if it entered U.S. air space, air traffic controllers could tell the pilot to land.

"That would create a colossal international incident and I just don't believe the president wants to do that," said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University.

Why would Snowden head for Ecuador?

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