Snowden Leaves Hong Kong for Moscow

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Edward Snowden, the former CIA contractor who became the biggest leaker in the history of the NSA, is on the run. On May 20, the 29-year-old left Hawaii for Hong Kong, shortly before the Guardian and the Washington Post began publishing what’s become a stream of stories about secret surveillance by the NSA on American citizens and others based on highly classified documents that he provided. While in hiding in Hong Kong, he outed himself as the source of those stories, and Sunday he was spirited to Russia, apparently en route to Ecuador, after the American government formally accused Snowden of willful communication of classified communications intelligence, theft of government property and unauthorized communication of national defense information—charges which could send him to prison for 30 years.

Hong Kong NSA Surveillance

A TV screen shows a news report of Edward Snowden, at a shopping mall in Hong Kong Sunday, June 23, 2013. (Vincent Yu/AP)

But Hong Kong let him go. Saturday, Snowden purchased a ticket to Venezuela via Russia and Cuba. Some Russian news outlets originally reported that the Kremlin was willing to give him asylum; others said he was going to Iceland, while Aeroflot confirmed he was definitely registered on the flight to Havana for Monday. While Snowden was in the air on his way from his secret location in Hong Kong to Moscow on Sunday, a caravan of black cars drove to the arrival area of Sheremetyevo airport; some of them had diplomatic plates and flags of Venezuela and Ecuador.

Russia 24 state channel reported that a black minivan of the Venezuelan embassy rushed away from the airport taking somebody who looked like Snowden with them. Tight rows of reporters waited at the arrivals area in vain—neither Snowden, nor Sarah Harrison, a WikiLeaks staffer traveling with him, walked out of the transit area, perhaps because they did not have Russian visas. It was reported that the Ecuadorian ambassador came to chat with Snowden in the airport. Last week, Richardo Patiño, Ecaudor’s minister of foreign affairs, met with Julian Assange in London, at the Ecuadorian embassy that the Wikileaks leader has spent the last year inside of as Sweden pursues sexual assault charges against him and the prospect of extradition to the United States also looms.

Sunday, Patiño tweeted: “The government of Ecuador received an asylum request from Edward J. Snowden”. Shortly thereafter, WikiLeaks confirmed that Snowden would travel to Ecuador on Monday.

American politicians were very upset by Snowden’s trip to Russia.

Right now both Snowden and Harrison “are peacefully sleeping at Capsule”, a Moscow airport hotel, a source from Aeroflot said.

Russian officials had previously said that Snowden would be welcomed and granted political asylum in Moscow. But independent experts say that Russian leaders see Snowden’s case as giving them a way to reopen the case for placing control of the internet under a U.N. body, which Russia, China and some Arab countries argued for last year. The United States successfully opposed the move, saying governments should not have access to information on the Internet. But with Snowden proving embarrassing examples of the United States spying on its own citizens and others around the world, the debate could be reopened.

Snowden is “peacefully sleeping” at a Moscow airport hotel.

While the Kremlin has taken care not to engage with Snowden directly, pro-Kremlin Russia Today reporters are doing so, experts say. “Moscow’s priority is not to find out the secrets that Snowden brings in his computer with him but to blow up a big story out of his case, and once again start a global discussion on control over Internet. Most probably, Russia Today is making an agreement to cooperate with Snowden right now in the airport,” Andrei Soldatov, an expert on Russian security services told The Daily Beast Sunday.

Margarita Simonian, editor-in-chief of Russia Today is friends with Assange, who she hired to work for the Krelmlin-aligned network in February of 2012.

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