Edward Snowden's Flight to Moscow Is Looking Like a Pretty Bad Bet

Edward Snowden's Flight to Moscow Is Looking Like a Pretty Bad Bet

Edward Snowden is marooned in the Moscow airport, perhaps without any clean pants, because he flew there without checking bags. On June 21, Snowden received an encrypted email from someone claiming to be a government representative, The Wall Street Journal's Te-Ping Chen and Ken Brown report, and the person urged him to leave Hong Kong, assuring him that he'd be able to clear immigration. On June 22, Snowden saw news reports that he'd been charged under the Espionage Act, and started looking for flights — sure he couldn't fly on an American airline, but not sure where he wanted to end up. On June 23, he headed to the airport and caught a flight to Moscow with no luggage to check. His decision to leave Hong Kong for Moscow is not looking like a good bet. He's now stuck in the airport transit zone (pictured above), where past asylum-seekers have been stuck for as much as nine months.

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The U.S. government revoked Snowden's passport after he left Hong Kong. Ecuador issued him a special travel document, but it's been revoked -- reportedly because the Ecuadorean government got annoyed with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange's showboating. (Snowden asked for Wikileaks's help on June 12.) Now Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa says Snowden's fate is up to Russia -- the country can't decide whether to give him asylum until he arrives at one of its embassies. But first, he'd have to get through Russian immigration control, which he can't do without a passport or travel papers. "He’s in the international area of the Moscow airport, but basically under the care of the Russian authorities," Correa told The New York Times' William Neuman. "Strictly speaking, the case is not in our hands." But the press secretary for Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a radio broadcast Sunday that Snowden's case "is not one on the Kremlin’s agenda." Snowden's asked 15 countries for asylum, a Russian foreign ministry official told the Los Angeles Times' Sergei L. Loiko

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Correa says he learned of Snowden's request for asylum on June 23, but that he knew it was coming, because Assange had said it would be a possibility. Correa said he had a "friendly and very cordial" conversation with Vice President Joe Biden on Friday. Biden asked that Snowden's asylum request be denied. Correa said Saturday, "The moment that he arrives, if he arrives, the first thing is we'll ask the opinion of the United States, as we did in the Assange case with England. But the decision is ours to make." But he told the Times, "Perhaps he broke the law of the United States, but in order to tell the truth to the United States, the American people and the entire world, and it’s a very urgent truth.. I think that this is a weighty argument in deciding whether or not to give him asylum."

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The mixed signals from Ecuador might be because it's having second thoughts, the Associated Press's  Michael Weissenstein reports. Santiago Basabe, a political science professor at the Latin American School of Social Sciences in Quito, explains that Ecuador "started pulling back, and they'll never tell us why, but I think the alarm bells started to go off from people very close to the government, maybe Ecuador's ambassador in Washington warned them about the consequences of asylum for Snowden."

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That's left Snowden desperate. "It was a desperate measure on his part after Ecuador disavowed his political protection credentials," an anonymous Russian foreign ministry official told the Los Angeles Times. "In the document Snowden reiterated once again that he is not a traitor and explained his actions only by a desire to open the world’s eyes on the flagrant violations by U.S. special services not only of American citizens but also citizens of European Union including their NATO allies."