MOSCOW — Despite a direct request from the United States to return Edward Snowden to U.S. soil to face charges of leaking government secrets, Russian officials said Monday that they had no legal authority to detain the fugitive former government contractor, who arrived in Moscow from Hong Kong on Sunday and was seeking asylum in Ecuador, reportedly by way of Havana.

A frustrated Secretary of State John F. Kerry he was troubled by the apparent refusal of fellow world powers China and Russia to respond to espionage charges the U.S. had filed against Snowden, who leaked top-secret documents about U.S. surveillance programs.

“It is a very serious question for all of us in all our relationships,” Kerry said. “There is no small irony here,” Kerry added, posing the hypothetical question of whether Snowden sought refuge in China and Russia “because they’re such powerful bastions of Internet freedom.”flag_kitaya_china_Abali.ru_[1]

News services said Snowden was expected to board an Aeroflot flight to Havana, scheduled to depart Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport at 6:05 a.m. Eastern time Monday. But reporters on board the flight said on Twitter that he had not been spotted among the passengers.“They’ve just locked the doors of the plane, #Snowden is NOT on this plane!!!” tweeted  Egor Piskunov, a reporter with Russia’s government-financed RT.There was no official confirmation of Snowden’s wehreabouts, however, meanign that it was still possible that he was on board — out of sight of the journalists, perhaps, or wearing a disguise.Flag_of_Russia.svg[1]Vladimir Lukin, Russia’s human rights ombudsman and a former ambassador to the United States, told the Interfax news agency that Russia had no authority to expel Snowden, as Washington was asking it to do. Russian officials said travelers who never leave a secure transit zone inside an airport —which means not crossing passport control–are not officially on Russian soil. Snowden did not have a Russia visa, several officials said, and therefore could not leave the transit zone.In addition, Russia and the United States do not have a bilateral extradition treaty, although Kerry said Moscow was obligated to cooperate under international law.

“The Americans can’t demand anything,” Lukin said, referring to the saga dismissively. “Detective stories are good bedtime reading.”flag-ecuador[1]

Kerry said the United States has extradited seven Russian prisoners in the past two years, and noted: “Reciprocity is pretty important.”

“It would be very disappointing if he was willfully allowed to board an airplane,” said Kerry, who was traveling in New Delhi. “There would be without any doubt . . . consequences.”

Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said

Noting that law enforcement agencies in the two countries have worked closely together in the wake of the deadly Boston Marathon bombings, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said, “we expect the Russian Government to look at all options available” for returnign Snowden to U.S. jurisdiction.

Kerry said “all appropriate countries” in Latin America had been notified with respect to Snowden’s legal status. “That is the appropriate step to take, to put them on notice that he is an indicted individual, three felony counts, wanted by the legal process of the United States.”

Snowden, who leaked top-secret documents about U.S. surveillance programs, has been charged with espionage in the United States. He flew into Moscow from Hong Kong Sunday with the help of the WikiLeaks organization and stayed out of sight overnight, apparently hidden away either in a VIP room or a small hotel.

The Associated Press reported that he was expected to fly to Havana and then to continue on to Ecuador, perhaps by way of Venezuela.

The Aeroflot flight to Havana usually crosses U.S. air space, but a check of recent flights showed the route can vary, apparently with the weather, and sometimes steers well clear of the United States.

Ricardo Patiño, Ecuador’s foreign minister, tweeted Sunday afternoon that his government had received a request for asylum from Snowden. WikiLeaks released a statement saying Snowden was “bound for the Republic of Ecuador via a safe route for the purposes of asylum.”Despite U.S. officials’ insistence that Snowden’s passport was revoked Saturday, the Hong Kong government said Sunday that he left “on his own accord for a third country.” Aeroflot told the Associated Press that Snowden registered for the flight on Sunday using his U.S. passport. Ecuadoran diplomats were at the airport Sunday when Snowden landed. It was not clear whether they were meeting with Snowden or with others who accompanied him.WikiLeaks, which has published hundreds of thousands of classified documents over the past several years, said it is aiding Snowden in his bid to avoid a return to the United States. Snowden, 30, had fled to Hong Kong, where he revealed two weeks ago that he was the source of leaked National Security Agency documents. Federal prosecutors in Virginia filed espionage charges against him June 14 and had asked Hong Kong to detain him.WikiLeaks said Snowden was accompanied on his flight to Moscow by Sarah Harrison, who the organization said is a British citizen, journalist and researcher working with the WikiLeaks legal defense team.Kristinn Hrafnsson, an Icelandic investigative journalist and spokesman for WikiLeaks, said in a phone interview that Snowden would stay overnight in Moscow, but said the city was  “not a final destination.” He declined to say when Snowden would be departing or where his final stop would be.

Hrafnsson said he established contact with Snowden last week while the American was in Hong Kong. Arrangements were made for Harrison to meet Snowden in Hong Kong and accompany him out. Harrison was still with Snowden in Moscow, Hrafnsson said.

“The WikiLeaks legal team and I are interested in preserving Mr. Snowden’s rights and protecting him as a person,” said Baltasar Garzón, legal director of WikiLeaks and attorney for Julian Assange, the group’s founder, who has spent the past year holed up in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London. “What is being done to Mr. Snowden and to Mr. Julian Assange — for making or facilitating disclosures in the public interest — is an assault against the people.”

A State Department spokeswoman said privacy laws prevented her from commenting specifically on the status of Snowden’s passport. But U.S. officials speaking anonymously said his passport had been revoked before he left Hong Kong.

“As is routine and consistent with U.S. regulations, persons with felony arrest warrants are subject to having their passport revoked,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. “. . . Persons wanted on felony charges, such as Mr. Snowden, should not be allowed to proceed in any further international travel, other than is necessary to return him to the United States.”

But the Interfax news agency, quoting a Russian law enforcement source, said Snowden could continue on his journey from Moscow without a U.S. passport if the country where he was seeking asylum provided him with travel documents. Those documents could include affirmation of refugee status, Interfax reported, or even a passport from the destination country.

“We are disappointed by the decision of the authorities in Hong Kong to permit Mr. Snowden to flee despite the legally valid U.S. request to arrest him for purposes of his extradition under the U.S.-Hong Kong Surrender Agreement,” Hayden said. “We have registered our strong objections to the authorities in Hong Kong as well as to the Chinese government through diplomatic channels and noted that such behavior is detrimental to U.S.-Hong Kong and U.S.-China bilateral relations.”

Russia’s role under fireThe apparent cooperation of the Russian government in Snowden’s attempt to avoid extradition to the United States outraged some members of Congress.“What’s infuriating here is [President Vladimir] Putin of Russia aiding and abetting Snowden’s escape,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”“The bottom line is very simple,” Schumer said. “Allies are supposed to treat each other in decent ways, and Putin always seems almost eager to put a finger in the eye of the United States, whether it is Syria, Iran and now, of course, with Snowden. That’s not how allies should treat one another, and I think it will have serious consequences for the United States-Russia relationship.”Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) agreed that Sunday’s events call “into question what kind of relationship we ever have had with China and Russia. We pretend that everything is hunky-dory when it is not. It isn’t with China. It isn’t with Russia. It certainly isn’t with Cuba, with Venezuela nor with Ecuador.”

She added: “These are countries that violate press freedoms every day. And yet [Snowden]’s seeking political asylum in those very countries where . . . if he were to pull a Snowden in these countries, they’d jail him immediately.”

The heated rhetoric comes as the Obama administration is making a strong effort to build better ties with both China and Russia, with Kerry investing considerable effort in developing a personal relationship with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov that might help him in tackling thorny issues such as how to respond to the ongoing civil war in Syria.

“Our hope is that we can work with the Russians very closely” on Syria, Kerry said Saturday in Qatar, before Snowden fled Hong Kong on a Russian flight. “I take at face value President Putin’s and Foreign Minister Lavrov’s willingness to try to work with us in good faith.”

Hong Kong’s government said that the U.S. request for a warrant for Snowden’s arrest “did not fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law” and that it had asked for “additional information.”

“As the HKSAR Government has yet to have sufficient information to process the request for provisional warrant of arrest, there is no legal basis to restrict Mr. Snowden from leaving Hong Kong,” the statement said.

A senior Justice Department official disputed that claim. “The request met the requirements of the agreement,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “They came back to us late Friday with additional questions, and we were in the process of responding. Obviously, this raises concerns for us, and we will continue to discuss this with the authorities there.”

The United States had asked Hong Kong to issue a provisional arrest warrant and filed charges against Snowden, including theft, “unauthorized communication of national defense information” and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person.”Patiño, the Ecuadoran foreign minister, recently said Quito would be willing to consider an asylum claim by Snowden. Speaking at a news conference in London after visiting Assange last Monday, Patiño suggested that his nation would approve such a request.On Monday, Patiño was in Vietnam and said that the nation is “in touch with the highest authorities of Russia” about an asylum claim from Snowden, according to the Associated Press. He said that the request “has to do with freedom of expression and with the security of citizens around the world,” and that Ecuador will not make its decision based on its relationship with the United States.“There are some governments that act more upon their own interests, but we do not,” Patiño said, according to the Associated Press. “We act upon our principles.”He added, “We take care of the human rights of the people.”

Assange has been unable to leave the Ecuadoran Embassy in London because Britain has refused to provide him safe passage while he is sought by Sweden for questioning about sexual-assault allegations.

U.S. relations with Ecuador

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa has emerged as one of the most vehement critics of U.S. policy in the Western Hemisphere. In 2011, his administration expelled the American ambassador in Quito to protest a cable released by WikiLeaks that alleged the Ecuadoran police force was rife with corruption.

The extradition treaty between the United States and Ecuador, signed in 1872, states that offenses of “a political character” do not warrant extradition — much like the United States’ agreement with Hong Kong.

It’s unclear whether the Chinese leadership in Beijing had any role in Hong Kong’s decision to let Snowden leave. Hong Kong is a semiautonomous region that prides itself on its independent legal system, but the government ultimately answers to the mainland, whose influence can be difficult to discern. Residents in Hong Kong are deeply resistant to any overt sign of interference from the Communist Party.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing said in a statement Sunday that it had seen the reports of Snowden’s departure and would continue to pay attention to developments but did not have “specific details.” The government added that it was “deeply concerned” about reports of U.S. government cyberattacks on China, saying they “proved that China is a victim of cyberattacks.”

Faiola reported from London and DeYoung reported from New Delhi. Jia Lynn Yang in Hong Kong, Juan Forero in Bogota, Colombia, Ernesto Londoño in Kabul, Lenny Bernstein, Sari Horwitz and David Nakamura in Washington, and Liu Liu in Beijing contributed to this report.

Thank you,, TiA

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This entry was posted on June 24, 2013 by in Uncategorized.

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