President Obama weighed in on the search for government leaker Edward Snowden Monday, saying the United States was working with other countries and following all applicable laws to catch the former American contractor who spilled secrets about top-secret surveillance programs.
“What we know is that we’re following all the appropriate legal channels and working with various other countries to make sure that rule of law is observed, and beyond that, I’ll refer to the Justice Department that has been actively involved in the case,” Obama said ahead of a meeting with business leaders at the White House to discuss immigration reform.
Obama has been careful to avoid saying too much about the search for Snowden, who has hopscotched the globe in an attempt to evade U.S. authorities. The president tried to shoo reporters out of the room on Monday, before relenting and giving a vague reaction to the Snowden manhunt.
Earlier Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the administration thinks Snowden is still in Russia, hitting China for releasing America’s most-wanted man as questions continue to swirl about the former U.S. contractor’s whereabouts.
“It is our assumption that he is in Russia,” Carney said at the start of his daily briefing with the White House press corps.
And Carney had particularly tough language for China, accusing the country of intentionally letting the “fugitive” travel from Hong Kong to Russia.
“We’re just not buying that this was a technical decision by a Hong Kong official,” Carney said, calling the “deliberate choice” by Chinese officials to let Snowden go a “serious setback” to trust between the two superpowers.
Obama recently met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a desert retreat in California, where the leaders vowed to pursue a new era of cooperation between the two countries. The Snowden episode has already caused many to question the legitimacy of such a claim, as the nations are already engaged in constant conflict about the degree to which both sides rely on cyber-spying.
President Obama’s top spokesman refused to speculate about the lengths U.S. officials would go to ensure Snowden is brought back to America.
Earlier in the day, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is aiding Snowden’s travels, declined to say where the government leaker is now hiding. Assange told reporters that Snowden is “healthy” and in “good spirits.”
According to an article published by the South China Post on Monday, Snowden said he took a contracting job with the National Security Agency solely with the intent of disclosing information about top-secret U.S. surveillance programs. Snowden’s revelations launched a national debate about the federal government collecting millions of Americans’ phone records and extensive Internet data.
Snowden has reportedly sought asylum in both Ecuador and Iceland, countries that could put up extensive barriers to U.S. requests to extradite the former CIA employee.
The White House also fought back against the suggestion Monday that Snowden was merely a political dissident, saying that the contractor’s decision to seek refuge in China and Russia, among other places with checkered records of transparency, proves he is more interested in bringing harm to the United States than stoking a broader debate about the tradeoffs between privacy and security.