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White House Upset with Hong Kong, Russia

WH spox says it believes NSA leaker still in Russia

Former Booze Allen employee Edward Snowden
• June 24, 2013 4:20 pm

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The White House sharply criticized Hong Kong for allowing suspected National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden to travel to Russia despite the felony charges against him and the revocation of his U.S. passport, and said the decision will have consequences for the U.S.-China relationship.

Snowden, who has been charged with espionage for leaking state secrets, reportedly had his passport revoked before he left Hong Kong for Moscow on Sunday. Hong Kong also reportedly denied a U.S. application for Snowden’s extradition, saying the request did not comply with its laws.

"We are not buying this was a technical decision," said White House spokesman Jay Carney during a press briefing on Monday. "This was a deliberate choice by the government to release the fugitive, despite a valid arrest warrant. That decision unquestionably has a negative impact on U.S.- China relationship."

The White House believes Snowden is still in Russia, and administration officials are in contact with Russian authorities to try to bring Snowden back to the United States to face trial, said Carney.

"We have a strong law enforcement cooperative relationship with the Russians," said Carney. "That has resulted in us returning criminals to Russia. We are expecting the Russians to examine the options available to them to expel Mr. Snowden for his return to the United States.

Carney declined to answer questions about why Snowden’s passport was not revoked earlier, citing privacy laws. He said Hong Kong authorities "were advised of the status of Mr. Snowden's travel documents in plenty of time to have prohibited his travel as appropriate."

While it is difficult to travel without a passport, it is not impossible. Fugitives like Snowden could be "paroled" by a foreign government—meaning that they are not officially in that country, even if they are technically on their soil—or could be issued travel documents by a sympathetic government, according to international law enforcement experts.

Former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes, who served on the Interpol executive committee from 2006 to 2009, said Snowden’s international fame has worked to his benefit.

"Whether he’s got a visa, whether he’s got a passport, letting him in, not letting him in, talking to him, putting him on a plane—[foreign governments] can do what they want," Fuentes said. "And of course he’s got enough people who think he’s a hero, between WikiLeaks and a few other notable millionaires. He has got the resources he needs to have legal people who understand the systems to file the appropriate requests for asylum or temporary travel documents, or whatever he needs to get from A to B."

The U.S. government reportedly did not request an Interpol "red notice" for Snowden, which would have set off airport alerts and potentially hindered his travel.

Carney said a red notice was not necessary in Snowden’s case.

"On matters of Interpol red notices, it is most valuable when you where be reduced when the whereabouts of a fugitive are unknown," Carney said. "We knew he was in Hong Kong and sought his arrest pending extradition while the charges were under seal."

Fuentes said the United States would have had a difficult time getting a red notice for Snowden, and that extradition requests in certain countries would run into similar problems.

"I would think getting Interpol red notices would also be next to impossible unless there are other criminal charges," Fuentes said. "I think that Interpol is going to have the same problem that the Chinese had, and that is, you brought charges that aren’t charges in our country.

"The serious charges from the U.S. standpoint are the secrets that he gave up," Fuentes said. "Stealing Chinese state secrets is a crime in China. Stealing U.S. state secrets is a crime in the U.S. But each one isn’t a crime in the other country."

Snowden is reportedly applying for asylum in several countries, including Ecuador. Carney declined to speculate on what action the administration would take if Snowden were allowed to leave Russia.

"Right now, we understand where he is and having appropriate conversations about that," Carney said. "I would not want to get ahead of that."