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Snowden's asylum request gives a boost to US critics

Text by Sébastian SEIBT

Latest update : 2013-06-25

Edward Snowden, the former intelligence contractor wanted by the US on espionage charges, is seeking asylum in Ecuador. US detractors are using the situation to criticise the United States for what they say are its abuse of civil liberties.

With Hong Kong, Russia, Cuba and Ecuador reportedly on his destination list, whistleblower Edward Snowden is in the process of visiting some of the United States’ chief detractors.

The former National Security Agency contractor, who has admitted to revealing secret US surveillance programs to media outlets, is currently hoping to be granted asylum in Ecuador. The Latin American country’s foreign affairs minister, Ricardo Patiño Aroca, said on Monday that “the respect of human rights was more important than anything else in the evaluation of Edward Snowden’s application” for asylum.

The situation is something of a repeat for Ecuador, which has allowed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to remain at its embassy in London for more than a year.

Now Snowden, on the run from US authorities that have filed espionage charges against him, has left Hong Kong, arrived in Moscow and is thought to be en route to Cuba – although he was not on the Monday Havana-bound plane on which he had reserved a seat, according to Russian airline Aeroflot.

Washington’s ire

From Havana, Snowden is reportedly planning on stopping in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas before continuing to Quito, Ecuador’s capital.

US ‘to use all legal channels’ to find Snowden

The White House pressed Russia on Monday to exercise all options to expel former US intelligence agency contractor Edward Snowden and slammed China for allowing him to leave Hong Kong.

"What we know is that we're following all the appropriate legal channels and working with various other countries to make sure the rule of law is observed," US President Barack Obama told reporters.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said it would be "deeply troubling'' if Russia or Hong Kong had received adequate notice about Snowden's plans to flee to a country that would grant him asylum and still allowed him leave. (Sources: Reuters, AP)

US authorities, who have revoked Snowden’s passport, are trying to convince their international counterparts to arrest him and send him back to the United States.

Their efforts have thus far been unsuccessful. Hong Kong said the US request for Snowden’s extradition was not legally valid on its territory. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Russia had “no information regarding Snowden”.

Some analysts say the countries involved are turning the situation to their advantage.

“The Snowden case is being used by several countries, which don’t have the best reputations when it comes to freedom of speech, to denounce America’s own infringement upon freedom of speech at home,” explained Thomas Snégaroff, a specialist in US foreign relations at France’s Institute for International and Strategic Relations.

The Snowden affair has been somewhat of a blessing for these countries, which run little diplomatic risk in criticising the US and can bolster their own images by taking on the role of generous providers of political asylum to whistleblowers.

“It is in their interest to play this situation to their advantage for as long as possible,” Snégaroff said.

Decline of American empire?

Washington, for its part, is eager to resolve the crisis as quickly as possible.

“The Americans are exhausting themselves chasing after Snowden, and their failure to obtain his extradition shows how much the US is struggling to impose its will on the international stage,” Snégaroff said.

WikiLeaks has offered the former intelligence agent help in his efforts to evade US authorities. “He is being escorted by diplomats and legal advisers from WikiLeaks,” the group said in a statement released on June 23.

Spanish former judge Baltasar Garzon, now the lawyer for WikiLeaks and Assange, has said Snowden contacted him asking for legal representation.

Beyond the cat-and-mouse game, the Snowden case may illustrate what some see as the decline of the American empire. The affair sheds light on “a country increasingly anxious about its national security, even if that means betraying its founding principles, like freedom of speech”, Snégaroff said.

He said the fact that an American who has never openly expressed anti-patriotic sentiments is the source of a leak about US national security programmes shows that “American power is being questioned” – this time, from within.


Date created : 2013-06-24

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