Edward Snowden is out of a job and on the run.
The 29-year-old American, who holed up in Hong Kong and blew the lid on the National Security Agency’s surveillance program, has been fired from his job with consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. The company issued a statement on Tuesday saying Snowden’s $122,000 a year contract was terminated for “violation of the firm’s code of ethics.”
Snowden, who leaked documents about the NSA's phone-records grab and internet data-mining operations to the Guardian and Washington Post, initially said he chose Hong Kong because of its “strong tradition of free speech,” telling the Guardian on Sunday that “the only thing I can do is sit here and hope the Hong Kong government does not deport me.”
Snowden has since reportedly checked out of his Hong Kong hotel. No one knows where he is—or if they do, they're not talking. The North Carolina native has suggested he might try to go to Iceland. Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has also told local media that the country would consider an asylum request.
But as several Republicans call for Snowden's extradition, and with charges against the secret-spiller seeming evermore likely—what are Snowden’s chances of avoiding extradition or being granted asylum? Not great, say experts.
“When we fight extradition, we fight probable cause,” said Douglas McNabb, an international criminal defense lawyer who specializes in extradition cases. “This guy has already admitted to committing the offense. That really hurts his chances from a defense perspective.”
Robert Anello, a New York lawyer who deals with extradition cases, said the “chances of an American citizen getting extradited are pretty good” if that person gets charged. “The United States is a significant country. There is a cost of going to battle over it, either politically or philosophically.”
Hong Kong and the United States have an extradition treaty, which was signed in 1996—months before Hong Kong sovereignty was transferred from the U.K. to China. Under the agreement, Hong Kong must extradite individuals indicted in the U.S.
Experts told NBC News it was unlikely China would defy a U.S. request for extradition if officials here make one. “I’m not going to speculate on whether we’re going to use it or not, just to tell you that we do have an extradition treaty with Hong Kong,” a U.S. state Department spokesman said Monday.
However, there is a provision that Hong Kong could employ if officials find it in their best interest from a defense or foreign policy perspective, McNabb explained. Snowden could have one potential loophole on his side: In March, Hong Kong’s High Court came out with a decision to establish a procedure for reviewing asylum applications. Until it does, those filing for asylum can stay indefinitely while the procedures are put in place.
Iceland, where chess champ Bobby Fischer was granted citizenship in 2005 despite the U.S. seeking custody of him, could be a long shot. The U.S. does have an extradition treaty with the country and Iceland officials have pointed out that in order to apply for asylum, Snowden would have to be in the country.
“He would have to travel I think pretty quickly before the U.S. government indicts him and seeks to have an international fugitive notice filed,” said McNabb.
“I don't know whether the prime minister would decide Mr. Snowden is worth giving protection to. I’m not sure he has anything to offer Iceland,” said Anello.
And what about Russia? There’s no extradition treaty. But if Snowden finds refuge there, it's sure to reignite old tensions between these two world powers.
Meanwhile, some are heralding Snowden as a hero. That includes 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 50,000 signatures.
The Obama Administration has remained mum on the case. Jay Carney, White House press secretary said on Monday he would not comment on Snowden because there’s an investigation underway.
Obama has defended the government surveillance programs, insisting they prevent terrorism, possess sufficient oversight and protect civil liberties.