Security

Edward Snowden factored into Obama’s decision not to meet with Putin

Above: U.S. President Barack Obama with Secretary of State John Kerry

Image Credit: White House/Flickr

It seems former NSA-contractor Edward Snowden’s reach goes beyond exposing U.S. government surveillance. His very presence in Russia is affecting relations between the two countries.

Tensions are high between Russia and the United States already — Snowden isn’t creating this all by himself. Indeed, the White House press secretary Jay Carney focused on issues regarding, “arms control, trade and commercial relations, global security issues, and human rights and civil society” in his statement on today’s cancellation. Russia also continues to stand by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, which is likely a frustration for President Obama.

Carney added, however that Snowden’s asylum in the country was “a factor.”

In June, Snowden fled his home in Hawaii, where he worked as a contractor for the NSA through Booz-Allen Hamilton. He went to Hong Kong, where he leaked a slide deck detailing a top-secret government surveillance program called PRISM. He said he chose Hong Kong because of its “commitment to free speech” but quickly realized the country was wiling to comply with an existing extradition treaty it shared with the U.S.

He then ended up in Moscow, holed up in the Sheremetyevo Airport for over a month, after his travel documents were cancelled during a stop-over in Moscow on the way to Ecuador, where he’d hoped to have asylum. Information he’d leaked about U.S. government programs to U.K. newspaper the Guardian continued to emerge while he was at the airport. He was finally released into Russia and given asylum on August 1, with the agreement that he not do anything to harm the U.S. while on Russian soil.

President Obama has expressed his disappointment that Russia refuses to hand Snowden over. Unlike Hong Kong, Russia has no such extradition agreement with the U.S. Obama suggested that Putin might ask for his leniency in other areas of political concern if the U.S. president pushed for Snowden’s return.

“We’ve got a whole lot of business that we do with China and Russia and I’m not going to have one case of a suspect who we’re trying to extradite suddenly being elevated to the point where I’ve got to start doing wheeling and dealing and trading on a whole host of other issues,” said Obama during a press conference following Snowden’s initial leaks. “No, I’m not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker.”

hat tip New York Times