The hunt for Edward Snowden isn't exactly the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
President Obama said on Thursday that the U.S. won’t engage in high-level “wheeling and dealing” or send out American aircrafts to catch the former CIA employee who blew the lid on two of the National Security Agency’s top-secret surveillance programs earlier this month.
“I’m not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker", said Obama in Dakar, Senegal—the first leg of a three country tour in Africa. The commander-in-chief did, however, 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.”
Snowden, who has been charged with espionage, flew from the U.S. to Hong Kong after revealing earlier this month that the government was obtaining millions of Americans’ phone records and operating a program that allowed U.S. officials to gather information about the online activities of foreigners abroad. He turned 30-years-old last week.
Snowden flew to Moscow on Sunday and was supposed to go to Cuba on Monday—likely en route to Ecuador, where officials are reviewing his request for asylum. He didn’t, however, board the flight. Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Snowden had not left Russia, that the American was expected to depart soon, and the country won’t extradite him.
Hong Kong and Russia’s refusal to extradite Snowden has the likelihood to reignite tensions with the U.S.
Obama said he has not called Putin or Chinese President Xi Jinping of China.
“The reason is because, number one, I shouldn’t have to,” he said, adding the situation is being dealt with at a law enforcement level. “This is not exceptional from a legal perspective,” he said. Obama said “his continued expectation is that Russia—there are other countries that have talked about potentially providing Mr. Snowden asylum—recognize that they are part of an international community and that they should be abiding by international law.”
He added, “We've got a whole lot of business that we do with China and Russia and I’m not going to have one case of a suspect who we're trying to extradite suddenly being elevated to the point where I've got to start doing wheeling and dealing and trading and a whole host of other issues, simply to get a guy extradited so he can face the justice system here in the United States.”
Obama said his number one priority is to make sure such leaks do not happen again.
“We don't know right now what Mr. Snowden's motives were, except for those things that he's said publicly, and I don't want to prejudge the case but it does show some pretty significant vulnerabilities over at the NSA that we've got to solve.”
Meanwhile, some are heralding Snowden as a hero, including Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971. An online petition on the White House’s website asking Obama to pardon Snowden has received more than 120,000 signatures.