Edward Snowden was expected to board a flight from Moscow today en route to an unknown final destination by way of Cuba and Venezuela.  But officials have said that the NSA leaker did not board that flight.

From the Washington Post:

Edward Snowden, who was expected to fly to Havana from Moscow Monday, did not board the flight, according to journalists on the airplane and airport officials, lending yet another twist to a convoluted flight from U.S. authories.

Just where he was remained a mystery. His ultimate destination was reported to be Ecuador, where he has asked for asylum. But at a press conference in Hanoi Monday a few hours after the plane had left Moscow, Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said he could not say where Snowden was.

Meanwhile, other outlets are reporting that an individual likely representing the interests of Beijing may have influenced Snowden’s decision to flee Hong Kong.

From the Telegraph:

Lawyer Albert Ho, who is also a Hong Kong legislator critical of China, said he was approached by Mr Snowden several days ago, and that the American had sought assurances from the Hong Kong government whether he could leave the city freely if he chose to do so.

The pair had a lengthy meeting at which Mr Snowden asked Mr Ho to approach the Hong Kong government to gauge its position on a possible extradition battle and whether they would hand him over to US authorities.

Mr Ho said he met a senior Hong Kong official, who did not offer any comment. But Mr Snowden later told Mr Ho an individual claiming to represent the Hong Kong government had contacted him and indicated he should leave the city, and wouldn’t be stopped by authorities.

Mr Ho said he believed the middleman was acting on Beijing’s orders. However, he had no concrete evidence and did not know whether the man represented the local or the mainland government.

“They (Beijing) used someone behind the scenes to get Snowden to leave. And the Hong Kong government didn’t have much of a role. Its role was to receive instructions to not stop him at the airport,” said Mr Ho, who is from the territory’s Democratic Party, which opposes any meddling by Beijing in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 and although it retains an independent legal system and its own extradition laws, Beijing has control over Hong Kong’s foreign affairs.

Mr Ho said: “From seeing the nervousness with which the Hong Kong government didn’t even give me any details at all … I have grounds to believe that the Hong Kong government had no authority over this case. That’s to say the whole case was decided by Beijing.”

Many remain concerned about the information to which Snowden claimed to have access, and the potential risks to national security, as well as to individuals working in the intelligence community, should that information be shared with foreign governments or press in the future.

Snowden stated in his initial video interview that he “had full access to the full rosters of everyone working at the NSA, the entire intelligence community, and undercover assets all around the world.”

There is speculation that some of that sensitive information could have already ended up in the hands of the Chinese government.

From the New York Times:

Mr. Snowden’s disclosures appeared to confirm the Chinese government’s argument [that it was the victim of cyberattacks from the US], and put the United States on the defensive. The highly classified documents that Mr. Snowden gave to the two newspapers showed that the N.S.A. compiled logs of virtually all telephone calls in the United States and collected the e-mail of foreigners from American Internet companies.

Mr. Snowden has denied giving China classified documents and said he had spoken only to journalists. But his public statements, directly and to reporters, have contained intelligence information of great interest to China.

Two Western intelligence experts, who worked for major government spy agencies, said they believed that the Chinese government had managed to drain the contents of the four laptops that Mr. Snowden said he brought to Hong Kong, and that he said were with him during his stay at a Hong Kong hotel.

If that were the case, they said, China would no longer need or want to have Mr. Snowden remain in Hong Kong.

The environment has changed some since Snowden’s initial revelations of the NSA’s domestic surveillance policies, which was generally positively received by the public.  But support for the former NSA contractor has grown more divided since he began sharing accusations of US hacking activities against Hong Kong and China with the press in Hong Kong.

Some critics have been especially harsh in their accusations of Snowden however, including politicians who have accused him of treason.  It should be pointed out that, in the legal sense, the accusation of treason is actually a very specific crime defined in the Constitution, as The Volokh Conspiracy explains.

Snowden meanwhile has requested asylum in Ecuador, citing fears that he would not face a fair trial if he were to return to the US.

From CNN:

Snowden told Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa that it is “unlikely that I will have a fair trial or humane treatment” if handed over to U.S. officials to stand trial, according to a letter from Snowden read by Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino.


In his letter, read by Patino, Snowden compared himself to Pvt. Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier accused of leaking classified information through WikiLeaks.

He said U.S. officials have treated Manning inhumanely by holding him in solitary confinement, and he predicted a similar “cruel and unusual” fate for himself if he falls into U.S. hands.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has sought refuge at Ecuador’s embassy for the last year to avoid extradition to Sweden over allegations of rape and sexual assault.

There is further irony in the situation between the US and Ecuador, because of prior leaks by Wikileaks that revealed US criticisms of Ecuador’s police force.

From the Washington Post:

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa has emerged as one of the most vehement critics of U.S. policy in the Western Hemisphere. In 2011, his administration expelled the American ambassador in Quito to protest a cable released by WikiLeaks that alleged the Ecuadoran police force was rife with corruption.

Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino confirmed Snowden’s request for asylum, and had some harsh criticisms of the US in return.  Also from the Washington Post:

Patino said Ecuador was still considering Snowden’s request for asylum while also delivering what appeared to be an impassioned defense of the former CIA contractor who has admitted leaking government secrets about surveillance programs. Patino, whose government has been sharply criticized for silencing journalists at home, insisted that Snowden’s case was fundamentally one based on the principle of human rights and praised Snowden for disclosing a surveillance program that had affected nations around the globe.

He cited U.S. refusals to extradite bankers convicted in crimes in Ecuador, saying Quito was now free to exercise its “sovereignty” in the same way. When asked if he was concerned about damaging his nation’s economic relationship with Washington, Patino remained adamant.

“Ecuador puts its principles above its economic interests,” he said.

Wikileaks’ Julian Assange claims that Snowden is “healthy and safe,” but declined to share information regarding Snowden’s whereabouts, according to CNET and other reports.