Edward Snowden fled Hong Kong for Russia after fearing that he could be jailed without his computer if he was detained at the request of the U.S. government, his lawyer has revealed.


The NSA whistleblower, whose whereabouts are unknown after he failed to board a plane from Moscow to Cuba on Monday, left Hong Kong after its government encouraged him to leave and said it would put up no barriers preventing him from doing so, solicitor Albert Ho said.


During a dinner of pizza, fried chicken, sausages and Pepsi on Tuesday, Ho met with Snowden to discuss his options, the lawyer told the New York Times.


After the meeting, they approached the government through an intermediary to ask if he would likely be released on bail if he was detained at the request of the U.S., and whether Hong Kong would interfere if he tried to leave the country.


Empty seat: But the flight has now departed Sheremetyevo Airport - and a photograph has emerged that shows his seat empty

Empty: Fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden today appeared to fail to make a flight from Moscow to Cuba after a picture showed the seat he was meant to be in as empty

The government, which was reportedly happy to hear from Snowden, responded that they could not predict what Hong Kong’s independent judiciary would do – and the thought that Snowden would be locked up in a cell without his computer terrified him, Ho said.

The government also encouraged Snowden to leave the country, which made him feel like they would not fight for him given pressure from the U.S., he said.

Snowden subsequently left the country on a flight for Moscow on Sunday and went through standard security and immigration checks as other passengers, Ho said.

In a statement yesterday, the Hong Kong government said Snowden boarded a plane at Chep Lap Kok airport ‘on his own accord for a third country through a lawful and normal channel’. It said documentation provided by the U.S. for an arrest warrant did not ‘fully comply’ with Hong Kong law.

Questions now remain over exactly where Snowden is. He is believed to be hoping to travel to Ecuador for political asylum.

His last known location was Moscow and the U.S. is assuming he is still in Russia, President Obama’s spokesman said on Monday.



Searching for asylum: Edward Snowden is travelling to Ecuador after being charged with espionage in America. He met with Ecuador's ambassador as he landed in Moscow today

Searching for asylum: Edward Snowden is travelling to Ecuador after being charged with espionage in America. He met with Ecuador’s ambassador as he landed in Moscow today

But spokesman Jay Carney added that Hong Kong failing to detain Snowden has ‘unquestionably’ hurt relations between the United States and China.

In a statement yesterday, the Hong Kong government said Snowden boarded a plane at Chep Lap Kok airport ‘on his own accord for a third country through a lawful and normal channel’. It said documentation provided by the U.S. for an arrest warrant did not ‘fully comply’ with Hong Kong law.

Carney said the U.S. is now expecting the Russians ‘to look at the options available to them to expel Mr. Snowden back to the United States to face justice for the crimes with which he is charged’.

Snowden is being accompanied by Wikileaks representative, Briton Sarah Harrison.

The founder of the WikiLeaks secret-spilling organization, Julian Assange, said he wouldn’t go into details about where Snowden was but said he was safe.

Assange, an Ecuador refugee himself, claimed he was ‘safe and healthy’ after fleeing to Moscow.

‘The current status of Mr Snowden and Harrison is that both are healthy and safe and they are in contact with their legal teams,’ Assange said.

‘Edward Snowden left Hong Kong on June 23 bound for Ecuador via a safe pass through Russia and other states,’ Assange told reporters on a conference call from inside Ecuador’s embassy in London, where he has been himself hiding from arrest and extradition.

Speaking at a telephone conference call with journalists, Mr Assange accused the U.S. administration of making ‘extremely bellicose’ statements about Mr Snowden and of attempting to ‘bully’ Russia and other countries into extraditing him.

‘The US Secretary of State claimed Mr Snowden is a traitor. He is not a traitor, he is not a spy, he is a whistleblower who has told the public an important truth,’ he said.

‘The charging of Edward Snowden is not a matter of justice – it is an attempt to intimidate any country that might be considering standing up for his rights to tell the truth.’

Right hand woman: Sarah Harrison, pictured outside the embassy in London where her then-boyfriend Julian Assange is seeking asylum

Right hand woman: Sarah Harrison, who is believed to have been helping Snowden flee to South America, is pictured outside the embassy in London where her then-boyfriend Julian Assange is seeking asylum

Asked if he knew where Mr Snowden was, Mr Assange replied: ‘He is in a safe place and his spirits are high. Due to the bellicose threats coming from the Obama administration we cannot go into further details.’

Asked if he knew how Mr Snowden left Hong Kong, Mr Assange said: ‘That is a fascinating story which I am sure will one day be told, but today is not the day.’

However, Russia last night claimed to be studying a U.S. demand for Snowden to be extradited – implying he was still hiding at a Moscow airport.

‘An official US request for detention and deportation of E. Snowden has been received through diplomatic channels, on the basis that he is being accused of committing grave crimes,’ admitted an informed source.

‘Appropriate services have been instructed to take measures to study this request from the USA.’

But simultaneously a security source said Russia does not have the right to apprehend Snowden because he had not gone through passport control at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo international airport.

‘The Russian authorities cannot detain and deport Snowden because he has not crossed the border of the Russian Federation,’ said a source.

Meanwhile, another source with knowledge of the Snowden situation strongly hinted he had left Russia on another plane.

‘Snowden, most likely, has already left the Russian Federation,’ according to a Moscow source ‘familiar with the matter’, reported Interfax news agency. ‘He could have left by a different plane.’

Departed: Snowden was due to fly on Flight CU 6150 from Moscow to Cuba

Departed: Snowden was believed to be booked on Flight CU 6150 from Moscow to Cuba

And Vladimir Putin’s spokesman teased the Americans: ‘Overall, we have no information about him.’

Leading MP Alexei Pushkov, head of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, blasted: ‘Why should the United States expect restraint and understanding from Russia?’

The distinctly contradictory Russian statements had the hallmarks of a Cold War-style bid to confuse the enemy and aid Snowden in his escape.

But there was also speculation in Western enemies that the Russians could be ‘extracting information’ from the American IT specialist, a former CIA employee, in return for helping him with his onward passage.

‘The delay is puzzling,’ said one source. ‘He appeared to have a ticket for an onward flight to Cuba and then South America but suddenly he was not on the flight. The question is: Who or what kept him in Moscow? ‘

A large group of journalists boarded flight SU 150 from Moscow to Havana but the economy class seat – for which Snowden has reportedly checked in – was empty.

‘He didn’t take the flight,’ said an Aeroflot source after the plane left 40 minutes late.

Heavy security around the flight suggested that there was an expectation he would take it.

The Ecuadorian ambassador to Moscow arrived at the airport yesterday morning amid speculation he would accompany Snowden on any flight. 

Another explanation was that he could be furnishing Snowden with an Ecuadorian travel document or passport that would enable him to cross borders legally.

There were also claims that he had applied for Icelandic asylum.

Should the Americans succeed in detaining Snowden, he could spend most of the rest of his life in jail as one of the most prolific ‘traitors’ ever, according to U.S. claims.

Meanwhile, Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino gave the strongest hint yet over his country’s intentions as he told a press conference he is reviewing Snowden’s asylum request and will make a decision based on human rights considerations above all.

Likening his case with the ‘persecution’ of US Army whistleblower Bradley Manning, he said: ‘Human rights principles will always be placed above any other interest.

‘Ecuador’s government has maintained respectful contact with the Russian government and has said that it is considering the asylum request… Of course, we are considering the consequences of our decisions but we act on our principles.’

It comes as US Secretary of State John Kerry said it would be ‘deeply troubling’ if Russia or Hong Kong had adequate notice about Snowden’s plans to flee to a country that will grant him asylum and still allowed him leave.

Asylum: The pair were met by two cars, pictured, from the Ecuadorian embassy parked at Moscow's Sheremetevo airport today

Asylum: The pair were met by two cars, pictured, from the Ecuadorian embassy parked at Moscow’s Sheremetevo airport today

‘I think reciprocity in the enforcement of the law is pretty important,’ he added.

His words were echoed by a State Department official in Washington who today urged all Western nations not to harbour the fugitive in a veiled warning to any country who fails to comply.

‘The United States has been in touch via diplomatic and law enforcement channels with countries in the Western Hemisphere through which Snowden might transit or that could serve as final destinations,’ he said. ‘The U.S. is advising these governments that Snowden is wanted on felony charges, and as such should not be allowed to proceed in any further international travel, other than is necessary to return him to the United States.’

The FSB was earlier said to have ignored the request with sources saying it had no reason to arrest Snowden and that he was treated as an ‘ordinary’ transit passenger.

‘The Ecuador authorities could supply him with refugee documents or even grant him citizenship by issuing a passport or a special note,’ said a Russian security source.

The Ecuador foreign minister Ricardo Patin Aroca is expected to gave a press conference at 1pm London time in Hanoi where he is on a diplomatic visit.

He is due to address the issue of Snowden’s dipomatic status, and said earlier: ‘We will make a decision… we are analysing it.’

The Ecuadorian Embassy in Moscow declined to give any details.  




Ecuador's President Rafael Correa

President Rafael Correa of Ecuador (pictured) embraces his role as a thorn in Washington’s side, railing against US imperialism and giving WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange refuge in his nation’s embassy in London.

But nothing Correa has done to rankle the United States is likely to infuriate as much as granting the asylum being sought by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who faces espionage charges back home after revealing details of two highly secret surveillance programs.

Both Cuba and Venezuela previously had been rumored as possible destinations for Snowden, although they now appeared more likely to be only transit points on the way to Ecuador.

‘Correa may find it hard to resist the temptation to get increased attention and seize this opportunity to provoke and defy the U.S.,’ said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank.

‘Correa is confrontational and relishes fights. Should he ultimately grant Snowden asylum, one hopes that Correa has thought through the likely consequences of such a decision.’

Taking in Snowden would increase Correa’s popularity among those who see him as a champion of open information, help him counter criticism of a new media law that some call an assault on freedom of speech in Ecuador and cement his name as a leading voice of opposition to U.S. foreign policy.

But it could threaten preferential access to US markets for Ecuadorean goods under the US Andean Trade Preference Act, and strain already shaky ties between two nations that only last year re-established full diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial level.

However, giving Snowden asylum for leaking secret information would be ‘illegal’ in both the US and Ecuador, former Ecuadorean diplomat Mauricio Gandara said.

‘It would be an illegal act, because what he has done is a crime in both the United States and Ecuador,’ said Gandara, who was Ecuador’s ambassador in London. ‘It is a confrontation with the people and government of the United States and both (political) parties. It is an unnecessary conflict.’

‘We make no comments and plan no official events on this issue’, said a source.

Last year Miss Harrison was forced to pay £3,500 to the courts after she had put up £5,000 as one of the people who provided sureties for Mr Assange’s bail conditions.

A WikiLeaks statement said yesterday: ‘Miss Harrison has courageously assisted Mr Snowden with his lawful departure from Hong Kong and is accompanying Mr Snowden on his passage to safety.’ 

Snowden has been charged with espionage after exposing Prism – a covert project run by US intelligence that snoops on Facebook accounts, emails and phone calls.

He has also detailed a massive electronic eavesdropping operation by Britain’s GCHQ called Operation Tempora. Snowden described it as ‘the largest programme of suspicionless surveillance in human history’.

The US had made a formal request to the Hong Kong government for a provisional arrest warrant to stop him leaving the territory.

But relations cooled after Snowden claimed the US had hacked into Chinese mobile phone companies to access millions of text messages. Beijing said it was ‘gravely concerned’ about the allegations.

In the US, security chiefs were bewildered at how Snowden had been allowed to leave the Chinese-run territory because his passport had been revoked on Saturday. Keith Alexander, head of the US National Security Agency said: ‘This is an individual who is not acting, in my opinion, with noble intent.

‘What Snowden has revealed has caused irreversible and significant damage to our country and to our allies.’ 

Democratic senator Charles Schumer believes Russian President Vladimir Putin approved Snowden’s flight to Moscow.

He said: ‘Putin always seems almost eager to stick a finger in the eye of the United States – whether it is Syria, Iran and now of course with Snowden.’ 

He also suggested China may have had a role to play in Snowden’s departure from Hong Kong.
He added: ‘It remains to be seen how much influence Beijing had on Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, the British government this morning declined to comment on whether a plane carrying Mr Snowden would be allowed through UK airspace and said that the question of whether he has breached any laws was a matter for the US legal system.

David Cameron’s official spokesman said the Prime Minister believes that GCHQ is operating within ‘a clear and robust framework’.

‘GCHQ absolutely operates within the law,’ said the spokesman. ‘It is very important that it has operated and continues to operate within the law.’

The spokesman said that the questions surrounding proposed legislation on communications data – branded a ‘snooper’s charter’ by critics – remained unchanged since the Queen’s Speech last month.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg prevented the inclusion in the Speech of a bill to require internet companies to keep records of email and social media contacts and allow security services access to the data, but Home Secretary Theresa May has been pressing for the legislation to be revived in the wake of the murder of soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich.

Mr Cameron’s spokesman said: ‘It is very important that we enable the police and other agencies to stay up to date with technological developments.

‘The Government is considering how best that is done and it will set out its position in due course.’


NBC ‘Meet the Press’ host David Gregory got a rise out of Glenn Greenwald on Sunday by asking the Guardian reporter why he shouldn’t be charged with a crime for having ‘aided and abetted’ former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden.

Greenwald replied on the show Sunday that it was ‘pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies.’

Tense: NBC host David Gregory and journalist Glenn Greenwald had a tense moment when Gregory suggested Greenwald should be charged with a crime for 'aiding' NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden

Tense: NBC host David Gregory and journalist Glenn Greenwald had a tense moment when Gregory suggested Greenwald should be charged with a crime for ‘aiding’ NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden

Greenwald first reported Snowden’s disclosure of U.S. government surveillance programs. On Sunday, Ecuador’s foreign minister and the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks said that Snowden was headed to Ecuador to seek asylum.

During his interview with NBC’s Gregory, Greenwald declined to discuss where Snowden was headed. That refusal seemed to prompt Gregory to ask: ‘To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?’

Greenwald said Gregory was embracing the Obama administration’s attempt to ‘criminalize investigative journalism,’ citing an FBI agent’s characterization of Fox News journalist James Rosen as a probable co-conspirator of a State Department contractor who was suspected of leaking classified information to Rosen. Rosen was not charged.

‘If you want to embrace that theory, it means that every investigative journalist in the United States who works with their sources, who receives classified information is a criminal, and it’s precisely those theories and precisely that climate that has become so menacing in the United States,’ said Greenwald, a former constitutional and civil rights lawyer who has written three books contending that the government has violated personal rights in the name of protecting national security.

Gregory responded that “the question of who is a journalist may be up to a debate with regard to what you are doing.” Gregory also said he was merely asking a question.

‘That question has been raised by lawmakers as well,’ Gregory said. ‘I’m not embracing anything, but, obviously, I take your point.’

Later, Greenwald tweeted, “Who needs the government to try to criminalize journalism when you have David Gregory to do it?” and, ‘Has David Gregory ever publicly wondered if powerful DC officials should be prosecuted for things like illegal spying & lying to Congress?’