As airport stay drags on, Snowden seeks new havens
(CNN) — As his mysterious stay in the transit area of a Moscow airport drags on, Edward Snowden has thrown open his search for asylum to include a host of countries around the globe.
The anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks said early Tuesday that it had submitted asylum requests to 19 more countries for Snowden, the ex-National Security Agency computer contractor who has admitted leaking details of U.S. surveillance programs to reporters.
The countries include Russia, where Snowden has been holed up at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport for more than a week. The others range from Latin America through Europe and on to Asia.
Snowden had already sought asylum in Iceland and in Ecuador, which had said it was considering the request. But recent comments from the Ecuadorian president suggest the South American country’s support for Snowden’s flight across the globe may be waning.
The United States has been pressing countries to refuse Snowden entry and hand him over to face espionage charges. His disclosures have created a political storm at home and diplomatic headaches abroad for President Barack Obama.
WikiLeaks released a statement attributed to Snowden late Monday in which he blasted the Obama administration for trying to block his efforts to seek refuge.
“These are the old, bad tools of political aggression,” Snowden said. “Their purpose is to frighten, not me, but those who would come after me.” But he added, “I am unbowed in my convictions and impressed at the efforts taken by so many.”
WikiLeaks, which has been assisting Snowden’s effort to find a haven from the U.S. charges, said that the documents it had submitted for the latest asylum requests “outline the risks of persecution Mr. Snowden faces in the United States and have started to be delivered by the Russian consulate to the relevant embassies in Moscow.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that Snowden’s asylum requests had been forwarded to 15 countries, the semi-official Interfax news agency reported. It didn’t specify which of the requests hadn’t been forwarded.
‘A stateless person’
Snowden has said he was the source of NSA documents leaked to British and U.S. newspapers that revealed details of secret American surveillance programs. He flew to Moscow from Hong Kong after the United States requested his extradition.
Russian officials have said he is in the transit zone of the airport and hasn’t passed through immigration into the country’s territory. But so far no reporters have caught site of Snowden in the expansive area for transiting passengers.
Russian President Vladimir Putin opened the door to Snowden possibly remaining in Russia on Monday, saying he “must stop his work aimed at harming our American partners” if he wants to stay.
But Peskov said Tuesday that Snowden had changed his mind and wouldn’t ask Russia for refuge, according to Interfax. Russian news agencies had carried conflicting reports about Snowden’s request on Monday.
In addition to Russia, WikiLeaks said it had sent new asylum requests to representatives of Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Finland, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Spain, Switzerland and Venezuela.
In Monday’s statement, Snowden criticized the Obama administration for yanking his passport once criminal charges were filed, “leaving me a stateless person.” But he said the administration isn’t afraid of people like him or others accused of disclosing U.S. secrets.
“No, the Obama administration is afraid of you,” he said. “It is afraid of an informed, angry public demanding the constitutional government it was promised — and it should be.”
Ecuador says it’s up to Russia
And while Ecuador has said it was considering Snowden’s request, President Rafael Correa told the British newspaper the Guardian that the American fugitive would have to reach Ecuadorian territory for his request to be considered.
“Are we responsible for getting him to Ecuador? It’s not logical,” Correa told the Guardian, one of the recipients of Snowden’s leaks. “The country that has to give him a safe conduct document is Russia.”
He added the decision to issue Snowden temporary travel documents that allowed him to leave Hong Kong was “a mistake on our part,” the Guardian reported.
Over the weekend, Correa said Vice President Joe Biden has asked Ecuador “to please reject” Snowden’s request. And Obama said Monday that Snowden had traveled to Russia without a valid passport or legal papers and that he hoped that Moscow would handle the case as it would any other travel-related matter.
Obama confirmed that the United States and Russia have had “high-level” discussions about Snowden, after an earlier report from Russia that the two nations’ top law enforcement officials were working together to resolve the situation.
Snowden says he leaked the classified information because he believes the U.S. surveillance programs he revealed exceed constitutional limits.
But U.S. government officials have defended the measures, describing them as necessary, legal tools in the effort to counter threats against the United States.
Europe fuming over report
Snowden has also disclosed information alleging U.S. spying on other governments.
The German news magazine Der Spiegel reported Sunday that information from Snowden detailed NSA bugging of European Union offices in Washington and New York, as well as an “electronic eavesdropping operation” that tapped into an EU building in Brussels.
That report has fueled mounting anger throughout Europe, with French President Francois Hollande threatening to halt talks with the United States on trade and other issues unless the bugging is stopped.
Obama responded to the latest furor Monday, saying that all nations, including those expressing the strongest protests, collect intelligence on each other.
Asked at a news conference in Tanzania about the latest leaks involving Snowden, Obama said he needed more information on the specific programs cited in the Der Spiegel report, but made clear such spying was commonplace.
“I guarantee you that in European capitals, there are people who are interested in, if not what I had for breakfast, at least what my talking points might be should I end up meeting with their leaders,” Obama said. “That is how intelligence services operate.”
CNN has not independently confirmed the allegations in the Der Spiegel report.
Nations respond to requests
Below is a list of countries’ responses to Snowden’s latest asylum requests:
• Indian Ministry of External Affairs Spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said Tuesday that he was not aware of Snowden’s asylum request. Akbaruddin was speaking during a visit to Brunei for a meeting organized the Association of South East Asian Nations.
• The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had no information to offer on Snowden’s case.
CNN’s Tom Cohen, Sumnima Udas, Steve Brusk, Barbara Starr, Miriam Falco, Kathryn Tancos, Alexander Hunter, Claudia Rebaza, Patrick Oppmann, Josh Levs, Catherine Shoichet and Susanna Palk contributed to this report.