Facing charges of espionage, former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden has left Hong Kong, WikiLeaks claims, and is headed to Russia.
Update: The Guardian is reporting that Snowden has arrived in Moscow.
Snowden’s final destination is unclear, but Cuba is a strong possibility. Wherever he ends up, the move is bound to infuriate White House authorities eager to bring Snowden back to the United States for a hearing.
The New York Times reported this morning that Snowden traveled on an Aeroflot flight. An unnamed reservations agent said he booked a one-way ticket. Russia’s Interfax news service, citing a “person familiar with the situation,” claims that Mr. Snowden will remain in transit at Moscow airport for several hours and would not formally cross the Russian border.
Snowden has been formally charged with theft of U.S. government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence to an unauthorized person.
As we reported earlier today, the White House put pressure on the authorities in Hong Kong to extradite Snowdon, the former analyst who disclosed classified documents to the press and revealed the government’s complex web of digital surveillance programs.
Hong Kong government officials said in a statement early Sunday morning that Snowden left the country “on his own accord for a third country through a lawful and normal channel.” Hong Kong currently has an extradition treaty with the U.S., but it includes exceptions for espionage.
“There is no legal basis to restrict Mr Snowden from leaving Hong Kong,” the statement continues.
In a twist, WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange told the press that he had great “sympathy” for Snowden’s position. Assange claims that WikiLeaks’ legal advisors would accompany Snowden and help him travel to a “safe route” to a “democratic country.” When probed by reporters, Assange would not reveal any further details about the final destination.
Press reports speculate that Snowden’s final destination will likely be Cuba — but the South China Morning Post suggests that it will be Iceland or Ecuador. A spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin informed Reuters that he is unaware of Snowden’s future travel plans.
Snowden said previously that he would remain in Hong Kong and would fight for his freedom in the courts.
“I’m willing to sacrifice all of that because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building,” Snowden told reporters from the Guardian.