WASHINGTON (AP) — The bizarre journey of Edward Snowden is far from over. After spending a night in Moscow's airport, the former National Security Agency contractor — and admitted leaker of state secrets — was expected to fly to Cuba and Venezuela en route to possible asylum in Ecuador.
Snowden, also a former CIA technician, fled Hong Kong on Sunday to dodge U.S. efforts to extradite him on espionage charges. Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said his government had received an asylum request, adding Monday that the decision "has to do with freedom of expression and with the security of citizens around the world." The anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks also said it would help Snowden.
Ecuador has rejected the United States' previous efforts at cooperation, and has been helping WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, avoid prosecution by allowing him to stay at its embassy in London.
Snowden gave documents to The Guardian and The Washington Post newspapers disclosing U.S. surveillance programs that collect vast amounts of phone records and online data in the name of foreign intelligence, often sweeping up information on American citizens. Officials have the ability to collect phone and Internet information broadly but need a warrant to examine specific cases where they believe terrorism is involved.
Snowden had been in hiding for several weeks in Hong Kong, a former British colony with a high degree of autonomy from mainland China. The United States formally sought Snowden's extradition from Hong Kong to face espionage charges but was rebuffed; Hong Kong officials said the U.S. request did not fully comply with their laws.
The Justice Department rejected that claim, saying its request met all of the requirements of the extradition treaty between the U.S. and Hong Kong. During conversations last week, including a phone call Wednesday between Attorney General Eric Holder and Hong Kong Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen, Hong Kong officials never raised any issues regarding sufficiency of the U.S. request, a Justice representative said.