MOSCOW, June 24 (RAPSI) - While the whereabouts of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden remain unknown, his presence looms large as officials worldwide are drawn into the fight by US authorities to bring him to justice over espionage and government theft charges filed earlier this month.
Snowden dominated international headlines this month after claiming responsibility for having leaked top-secret documents to The Guardian, detailing the National Security Agency’s (NSA) capacity to access the systems of such major US companies as Google, Facebook, and Apple. Google, Facebook, and Apple have all denied having provided direct or backdoor access to their servers.
In an interview with The Guardian conducted from Hong Kong earlier this month, Snowden had expressed his desire to seek asylum in a country that shares his values. Initially, there was talk of Iceland. Snowden explained during the interview, “The nation that most encompasses this is Iceland. They stood up for people over internet freedom. I have no idea what my future is going to be.”
Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jónsdóttir came out in support of Snowden shortly after he outed himself, vowing in a statement issued on behalf of the International Modern Media Institute (IMMI) to offer assistance and advice in his reported efforts to seek asylum in the Nordic country.
He fled to Hong Kong prior to publicly identifying himself, but remained mostly in hiding until Sunday, when it was widely reported that he fled to Moscow, where he was meant to spend a night in Sheremyetevo Airport prior to journeying onto Havana. After that, he was expected to move forward to a third country.
According to RIA Novosti, he checked in but never boarded the sold-out flight to Havana, which is now reportedly en route to Cuba packed with journalists.
A day prior to fleeing Hong Kong, it was widely reported that espionage charges had been filed against him.
The Washington Post released a copy Saturday of a complaint against Snowden that had been filed by US federal prosecutors on June 14 alleging the theft of government property as well as two espionage charges – the unauthorized communication of national defense information and the willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person.
Then on Sunday, Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino announced that his government had received an asylum request from Snowden.
Speaking at a joint press conference in New Delhi Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said it would be “very disappointing” if it turned out that Hong Kong or Russia had allowed Snowden to board a flight having had advance warning of his travel plans, adding that diplomatic relations would be impacted “without any question,” according to a Wall Street Journal report.
In Russia’s defense, a Russian law enforcement source told RIA Novosti Monday that there were no legal grounds for detaining Snowden, explaining, “Snowden has not committed any crime in Russia, and the Russian law enforcement agencies have not been instructed to detain him. So there are no grounds for doing so."
Kerry went on to urge Russia “to live by the standards of the law because that’s in the interest of everybody,” adding, "[i]n the last two years we have transferred seven prisoners to Russia that they wanted, so I think reciprocity in the enforcement of the law is pretty important."
Bout's story gained popular notoriety through the success of the Hollywood blockbuster Lord of War, a story that is said to be loosely based on Bout's life - although a highly sensationalized version of his life story. He was convicted in November 2011 of conspiracy to murder US nationals, including military officers and employees, and to sell millions of dollars’ worth of weapons, including hundreds of portable surface-to-air missiles and over 20,000 AK-47s, to the Colombian rebel group FARC. He was sentenced in turn to 25 years in a medium-security prison.
Yaroshenko was sentenced in September 2010 to 20 years in prison for conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the US.
These two cases have proven sensitive issues between the US and Russia in recent years. After meeting with his American counterpart Kerry in Moscow last month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov vowed to pursue its options under international law if the presently pending appeals launched by Bout and Yaroshenko prove fruitless.
"When the appellate procedures in regard to the verdicts against Bout and Yaroshenko are over [...], we intend to make use of the Council of Europe's convention on the transfer of sentenced persons to serve out sentences in their own country, and thus hope for cooperation", the minister said.