Edward Snowden’s prospects for asylum are looking dim.
The former National Security Agency contractor, who revealed several once-secret aspects of the country’s confidential surveillance programs, has applied for asylum in 21 countries, according to secret-spilling website WikiLeaks.
The 30-year-old first fled Hawaii for Hong Kong, and then Hong Kong for Moscow. He was believed to be en route to Latin America, but has since been stuck in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. Russian President Valdimir Putin has said Snowden—charged with espionage by the U.S.—will not be extradited.
WikiLeaks (whose own Julian Assange was granted asylum by Ecuador last year) said on its website that it was helping Snowden with requests for asylum. The possible asylum countries included China, Cuba, Venezuela, India, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Brazil, and a number of European countries.
So far, no countries have taken the bait. Many surely want to tread carefully before kicking dirt in the face of the world’s most powerful nation.
Snowden isn’t someone other countries want to “go to battle over because he is a political hot potato,” said Robert Anello, a New York lawyer who deals with extradition cases.
India, Poland, and the Netherlands have all rejected Snowden’s requests. A number of countries, including Austria, Iceland, and Spain said they could not consider the bids because they were not filed from inside their countries. And a spokesman for Putin said Snowden has decided to drop his petition with Russia altogether after authorities there said he must stop releasing information about America’s surveillance programs.
Ecuador President Rafael Correa initially appeared open to considering the asylum request, but seemed to change his tune on Friday after Vice President Joe Biden reportedly called him to request that the government extradite Snowden back to America if he arrived in the country.
Correa said he respects America’s request and said the administration couldn’t process Snowden’s request unless he first arrived in Ecuador or one of its embassies.
Douglas McNabb, an international criminal defense lawyer who specializes in extradition cases, said time is running out for Snowden and was curious as to why the American hasn’t applied for asylum in more countries.
“Why not take a shotgun approach and apply them to more countries in hopes that one of them will accept him,” he said, adding Russian authorities may soon run out of patience with Snowden hanging out at the airport transit zone and kick him out. McNabb explained Russia would expel Snowden to where he came from—Hong Kong—and it would be up to authorities there to decide what to do to him.
“There’s no doubt that it’s the United States and the United States is a country that many countries don’t want to put a stick in the eye of,” Anello added. “But it’s also the fact that he’s running from the criminal justice system. There is often international cooperation with these types of things.”
After U.S. officials asked Hong Kong to issue a provisional arrest warrant to nab Snowden, authorities there refused, arguing that the paperwork the U.S. submitted did not “fully comply with the legal requirements” needed to keep the North Carolina native from leaving the country.
China’s foreign ministry told NBC that they had seen Snowden’s request for asylum in the country but had no information about it. It’s unlikely the country would accept the request after U.S. officials severely criticized the country for allowing Snowden to leave in the first place.
Meanwhile, Snowden, via WikiLeaks, released a letter this week ripping Obama for “using citizenship as a weapon,” and for “unilaterally revok[ing] my passport, leaving me a stateless person.” He insisted the Obama administration is “afraid of an informed, angry public demanding the constitutional government it was promised—and it should be.”
President Obama has said the U.S. won’t engage in high-level “wheeling and dealing” or send out American aircrafts to catch Snowden.
“I’m not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker,” he said last week. The commander-in-chief, however, did express concern that he’s worried about what other information Snowden may have. “We don’t yet know what other documents he may try to dribble out there.”
A small international drama played out on Tuesday evening when Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane was rerouted because of suspicions that Snowden might be aboard. Morales had been in Moscow to attend a conference of gas-exporting countries. The flight was rerouted to Austria; France and Portugal denied the flight permission to cross their airspace. There was no evidence that the U.S. had intervened. And a senior official told NBC News’ Pete Williams that as of Tuesday night, there was no indication that Snowden was anywhere but still in Moscow.
“We don’t know who invented this lie. We want to denounce to the international community this injustice with the plane of President Evo Morales,” said Bolivia’s Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca in an interview quoted by The Associated Press.
This story was updated at 8:00 p.m.