Updated 6/24 9:50 a.m.
Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked top secret documents exposing extensive U.S. surveillance efforts, left Hong Kong on Sunday with the help of Wikileaks. The organization announced Sunday afternoon that Snowden was on his way to Ecuador and was being escorted by the group’s legal advisers and diplomats.
“Mr Snowden requested that WikiLeaks use its legal expertise and experience to secure his safety. Once Mr Snowden arrives in Ecuador his request will be formally processed,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
Ecuador’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño Aroca, said at a press conference Monday morning that Snowden’s asylum request would be considered along his country’s “ethical principles, the constitution and Ecuador’s sovereignty.” Patiño Aroca added that Ecuador was in contact with Russia, where Snowden fled after leaving Hong Kong.
The Government of Ecuador has received an asylum request from Edward J. #Snowden
— Ricardo Patiño Aroca (@RicardoPatinoEC) June 23, 2013
A senior administration official said that President Obama was briefed on the Snowden situation Sunday morning and that he continues to get updates.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday morning that the administration had been in contact with Russian officials
Snowden’s passport was revoked Saturday, however, individual countries can still choose to allow him entry.
The United States government charged Snowden with espionage on Friday and had asked Hong Kong to issue a provisional arrest warrant. Officials there refused, saying that what the U.S. submitted “did not fully comply with the legal requirements” to keep Snowden from leaving the country.
On Saturday, while the U.S. waited for Hong Kong to respond to its request to detain Snowden, the administration said delay could hurt diplomatic relations and “raise questions about Hong Kong’s commitment to the rule of law.” A senior administration official said on Sunday after Snowden departed that “obviously this raises concerns for us and we’ll continue to discuss with the authorities there.”
Snowden faces three charges: theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information, and willful communication of classified communications intelligence to an unauthorized person. The latter two charges both fall under the Espionage Act; Snowden is the seventh individual the Obama administration has charged under the Act for leaking information, more than all prior administrations combined.
The debate over whether Snowden deserves praise or condemnation for his actions has grown more heated with each new development. Leaders who have supported the government’s pursuit of Snowden faced harsh reactions from progressives; attendees at this year’s Netroots Nation activist conference booed and heckled Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California when she defended the administration and said that Snowden broke the law.
Gen. Keith Alexander, the head of the National Security Agency said on This Week Sunday that he did not know how Snowden managed to acquire so much information without triggering any alarms. He also admitted that while the NSA is instituting new security measures, “at the end of the day we have to trust that our people are going to do the right thing.”