Skip to main content

NSA leaker waits in Moscow ... and waits

By Matt Smith and Josh Levs, CNN
updated 8:59 AM EDT, Thu June 27, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Ecuador denies issuing Snowden travel documents
  • U.S. won't be "scrambling jets" to bring Snowden in, President Obama says
  • A Hong Kong official says the U.S. was at fault for Snowden not being held there
  • Ecuador invites Washington to argue in writing why Snowden should not get asylum

(CNN) -- The United States will keep to routine channels in its efforts to bring self-avowed NSA leaker Edward Snowden back for prosecution, President Barack Obama said Thursday.

"I'm not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker," he told reporters during a news conference in Senegal.

Meanwhile, Ecuador's Political Affairs Secretary Bety Tola said officials had not yet "dealt with" Snowden's request for asylum because he is not in the country. Officials also denied statements this week by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange that Ecuador had given Snowden refugee documents to travel on after his U.S. passport was revoked.

The statements further muddy an already complicated set of scenarios involving Snowden, who apparently remained in a Moscow airport with Russian officials suggesting it's time for him to move on.

As Snowden seeks asylum, U.S. bides its time

John Walker ran a father and son spy ring, passing classified material to the Soviet Union from 1967 to 1985. Walker was a Navy communication specialist with financial difficulties when he walked into the Soviet Embassy and sold a piece of cyphering equipment. Navy and Defense officials said that Walker enabled the Soviet Union to unscramble military communications and pinpoint the location of U.S. submarines at all times. As part of his plea deal, prosecutors promised leniency for Walker's son Michael Walker, a former Navy seaman. Click through the gallery to see other high-profile leak scandals the United States has seen over the years. John Walker ran a father and son spy ring, passing classified material to the Soviet Union from 1967 to 1985. Walker was a Navy communication specialist with financial difficulties when he walked into the Soviet Embassy and sold a piece of cyphering equipment. Navy and Defense officials said that Walker enabled the Soviet Union to unscramble military communications and pinpoint the location of U.S. submarines at all times. As part of his plea deal, prosecutors promised leniency for Walker's son Michael Walker, a former Navy seaman. Click through the gallery to see other high-profile leak scandals the United States has seen over the years.
Sharing secrets: U.S. intelligence leaks
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
Sharing secrets: U.S. intelligence leaks Sharing secrets: U.S. intelligence leaks
Ecuador: We didn't help Snowden
Snowden's travel limbo
Snowden have 'doomsday insurance'?

Snowden, the former National Security Agency computer contractor who spilled details of U.S. surveillance programs to reporters, flew to Moscow from Hong Kong after American authorities sought his extradition on espionage charges. Russia says it has no interest in arresting him, but for a second day, a top Russian official questioned how long he will be hanging around Sheremetyevo International Airport.

"He did not violate any laws of the Russian Federation. He did not cross the border, stays in the transit zone of the airport and has a right to fly in any direction he thinks of," Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the ITAR-TASS news agency Wednesday. "And as the president put it, the sooner it happens, the better."

The United States has called on any country where Snowden may travel to turn him away. The 30-year-old is being aided by WikiLeaks, the international anti-secrecy group that facilitates the release of classified information.

Ecuador, the South American country where Snowden has sought refuge, has already hosted Assange for a year in its embassy in London.

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

The Ecuadorian government took a swipe at Washington on Wednesday, rejecting what it called "detrimental, untrue, and unproductive" claims the U.S. government has made about Ecuador. But it also invited Washington to weigh in on the request.

A response to Snowden's asylum application could take as long as two months, the Ecuadorian foreign minister said Wednesday.

"The decision on asylum could resolve itself in one day, one week or, as with Assange, it could take two months," Ricardo Patino wrote on his Twitter account.

Why would Snowden head for Ecuador?

Relations between the United States and Ecuador have been tense under the leftist administration of Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa. The United States has criticized a new law in Ecuador it says will restrict press freedoms, and the countries expelled each others' ambassadors in 2011 after WikiLeaks released U.S. diplomatic cables saying Ecuador's government tolerated police corruption.

Opinion: Why Ecuador might shelter Snowden

An Ecuadorian deputy foreign minister denied Wednesday previous reports that the nation had given Snowden documents to facilitate his travel.

"It is not true that he has an ID, passport or any document given to him by any Ecuadorian consulate," Galo Galarza said. "It is possible that he may have letters of recommendation or references. But from our side, the Foreign Ministry, we have not provided any document as is being reported by some media outlets."

Documents Snowden provided to newspapers revealed the scope of U.S. programs that collect records of domestic telephone calls in the United States and monitor the Internet activity of overseas residents. The disclosures shook the U.S. intelligence community and raised questions about whether the NSA is eroding American civil liberties. Defenders of the program say it has helped investigators break up several terrorist plots and that the operations are conducted under the oversight of all three branches of government.

Hong Kong newspaper the South China Morning Post published a story Monday quoting Snowden as saying he took a job at computer consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton to gather evidence on U.S. surveillance programs.

Snowden went to Hong Kong before details of the NSA leaks began appearing in newspapers. He left Sunday, after the United States asked authorities in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory to hold him for extradition proceedings.

The United States has expressed dismay at the failure of the Hong Kong government to stop Snowden, with White House spokesman Jay Carney calling the decision "a serious setback" to U.S.-China ties. But Hong Kong's top prosecutor, Rimsky Yuen, said U.S. officials failed to respond to a request for further information, leaving authorities there unable to arrest him.

Yuen told reporters late Tuesday that some documents referred to an "Edward James Snowden," while Hong Kong immigration records listed his middle name as Joseph, and another document only referred to "Edward J. Snowden." That, along with a lack of a passport number, slowed down a decision on issuing an arrest warrant, Yuen said.

But in a statement provided to CNN, the U.S. Justice Department said Hong Kong's request for more information were just a dodge that let Snowden get away.

"The true motive of the letter from Hong Kong authorities is revealed by its request for the supposed 'clarification' of Mr. Snowden's identity with regard to his middle name," the statement said. "That Hong Kong would ask for more information about his identity demonstrates that it was simply trying to create a pretext for not acting on the provisional arrest request."

The statement said U.S. officials had met all legal requirements in its paperwork. And a law enforcement official said officials in Hong Kong had the request from the United States for days but waited until Friday night to raise concern about Snowden's name.

Where could Snowden go next?

CNN's Carol Cratty, Elise Labott, Vivian Kam, Adam Levine, Catherine E. Shoichet and Joseph Netto contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Data mining & privacy
updated 10:25 AM EDT, Sun June 23, 2013
He's a high-school dropout who worked his way into the most secretive computers in U.S. intelligence as a defense contractor.
updated 8:26 AM EDT, Thu May 29, 2014
Traitor or patriot? Low-level systems analyst or highly trained spy?
updated 3:27 PM EDT, Thu May 29, 2014
What are the takeaways from Snowden's NBC interview? You might be surprised.
updated 7:52 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Months after accepting asylum in Russia, Snowden asked Putin about Moscow's own surveillance practices.
updated 12:43 PM EDT, Wed March 12, 2014
A federal judge has refused the Obama administration's request to extend storage of classified NSA telephone surveillance data beyond the current five-year limit.
updated 8:44 PM EDT, Sun March 9, 2014
From his sanctuary in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Julian Assange said that everyone in the world will be just as effectively monitored soon -- at least digitally.
updated 8:39 PM EDT, Mon March 10, 2014
In a rare public talk via the Web, fugitive NSA leaker Edward Snowden urged a tech conference audience to help "fix" the U.S. government's surveillance of its citizens.
updated 11:55 PM EDT, Thu August 1, 2013
The White House is "very disappointed" that National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden has been granted temporary asylum in Russia.
updated 8:57 AM EST, Tue December 10, 2013
Spies with surveillance agencies in the U.S. and U.K. infiltrated video games like "World of Warcraft" in a hunt for terrorists "hiding in plain sight" online.
updated 7:39 AM EDT, Fri August 2, 2013
Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden both held jobs that gave them access to some of their country's most secret and sensitive intelligence. They chose to share that material with the world and are now paying for it.
updated 10:35 AM EDT, Thu August 1, 2013
The NSA's controversial intelligence-gathering programs have prevented 54 terrorist attacks around the world, including 13 in the United States.
updated 2:54 PM EDT, Thu August 1, 2013
You've never heard of XKeyscore, but it definitely knows you. The National Security Agency's top-secret program essentially makes available everything you've ever done on the Internet.
updated 9:04 AM EDT, Sun August 18, 2013
You may have never heard of Lavabit and Silent Circle. That's because they offered encrypted (secure) e-mail services, something most Americans have probably never thought about needing.
updated 2:54 PM EDT, Wed July 24, 2013
"Any analyst at any time can target anyone. Any selector, anywhere ... I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone."
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 2, 2013
President Barack Obama responds to outrage by European leaders over revelations of alleged U.S. spying.
updated 3:54 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Browse through a history of high-profile intelligence leaking cases.
updated 10:37 AM EDT, Tue July 2, 2013
Former President George W. Bush talks Snowden, AIDS, Mandela and his legacy.
updated 9:04 AM EDT, Wed June 26, 2013
Edward Snowden took a job with an NSA contractor in order to gather evidence about U.S. surveillance programs.
updated 6:47 AM EDT, Wed June 19, 2013
With reports of NSA snooping, many people have started wondering about their personl internet security.
updated 9:52 AM EDT, Wed August 14, 2013
Click through our gallery to learn about other major leaks and what happened in the aftermath.
updated 4:02 PM EDT, Sun June 9, 2013
What really goes on inside America's most secretive agency? CNN's Chris Lawrence reports.
ADVERTISEMENT