The Obama administration on Monday slammed Edward Snowden, a former U.S. contractor who faces espionage charges for leaking secret government information to the press, for choosing to evade authorities in countries with regimes that are hostile toward American values.
Snowden is expected to seek asylum in Ecuador, but the former CIA employee was not aboard a plane bound for Cuba Monday that had been part of his expected itinerary to South America. Snowden flew from the U.S. to Hong Kong and then Moscow in an attempt to shelter himself from charges on American soil.
“Mr. Snowden’s claim that he is focused on supporting transparency, freedom of the press and protection of individual rights and democracy is belied by the protectors he has potentially chosen: China, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador,” a senior administration official said. “His failure to criticize these regimes suggests that his true motive throughout has been to injure the national security of the U.S., not to advance Internet freedom and free speech.”
With Snowden’s exact whereabouts unknown, Ecuador’s foreign minister on Monday said he was still weighing the asylum request.
Snowden has bedeviled both reporters and U.S. officials looking to track him down. He has received help in his travels from Wikileaks, the organization that facilitates the publication of classified information.
The Obama administration criticized foreign governments for not cooperating with U.S. requests to detain Snowden and revoke his passport.
“We are disappointed by the decision of the authorities in Hong Kong to permit Mr. Snowden to flee despite the legally valid U.S. request to arrest him for purposes of his extradition under the U.S.-Hong Kong Surrender Agreement,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said. “We have registered our strong objections to the authorities in Hong Kong as well as to the Chinese government through diplomatic channels and noted that such behavior is detrimental to U.S.-Hong Kong and U.S.-China bilateral relations.”
Snowden landed in Moscow on Sunday after several weeks of hiding in Hong Kong. Russian authorities have shown no willingness to detain Snowden, adding even more tension to an already frosty relationship between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Given our intensified cooperation after the Boston marathon bombings and our history of working with Russia on law enforcement matters — including returning numerous high-level criminals back to Russia at the request of the Russian government —we expect the Russian government to look at all options available to expel Mr. Snowden back to the U.S. to face justice for the crimes with which he is charged,” Hayden added.
Still, the U.S. faces an uphill battle in getting Snowden back on American soil. Ecuador, Snowden’s preferred destination, has a long history of ignoring American extradition requests.