Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who exposed the NSA’s PRISM surveillance program and a number of similar government initiatives over the course of the last few weeks, has left Hong Kong and is currently in transit in Moscow. According to Wikileaks, which has been providing legal assistance to Snowden, he “is bound for the Republic of Ecuador via a safe route for the purposes of asylum, and is being escorted by diplomats and legal advisors from WikiLeaks.”
That democratic nation, the earliest reports suggested, was Venezuela, with Moscow just being the first stop on his journey. Now, however, it looks like Ecuador, which also offered asylum to Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange, has taken an interest in this case, too. Earlier this week, it seemed Snowden was going to head for Iceland.
Update (9:58am PT): It now looks as if Snowden has indeed applied for asylum in Ecuador. The country’s foreign minister just tweeted this:
Wikileaks has also updated its press release to read: “He is bound for the Republic of Ecuador via a safe route for the purposes of asylum, and is being escorted by diplomats and legal advisors from WikiLeaks.” We have updated this story to reflect that.
As far as we can see, there are no direct flights that connect Moscow to Ecuador’s capital of Quito, so if Snowden travels commercially (and the distance is out of the reach of most standard business jets), he will likely have to make another stop. Cuba would be a likely candidate, and that option was discussed earlier today when it still looked as if Snowden was heading to Venezuela. The U.S. has revoked Snowden’s passport, though, which shouldn’t be a problem for entering Ecuador, but it could complicate his travels through another country.
Snowden was allowed to leave Hong Kong legally, Hong Kong’s government said today, because the U.S.’s request for the issue of a warrant of arrest “did not fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law.” Hong Kong asked the U.S. for more information, but because it didn’t receive this yet, it had “no legal basis to restrict Mr Snowden from leaving Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong, it’s worth noting, is also asking the U.S. for clarifications about earlier reports that its computer systems were hacked by U.S. agencies.
Snowden left Hong Kong on an Aeroflot jet bound for Moscow, which landed a few hours ago, but most current reports suggest he will continue from there to Cuba and finally Venezuela. If he remains in transit in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, it’s unlikely Russia could detain him, even if the U.S. issued a request. ABC’s Kirit Radia, who talked to passengers on Snowden’s flight, suggest that his plane was met by “diplomatic cars,” but it’s unclear from which country these cars were.
We will update this story as we hear more.