The plane pictured above is on its way from Moscow to Havana, but without its most famous passenger. Instead, the plane is filled with reporters who were hoping to catch a ride with the world's most wanted fugitive, Edward Snowden, who was checked into the flight and had purchased two tickets in an apparent plan to escape to Ecuador. However, the plane left without Snowden ever boarding or showing up at the gate and those journalists will now be spending the next few days in Cuba without a story to cover.
Standing next to Edward Snowden's seat on flight to Cuba. He ain't here. pic.twitter.com/NVRH3Pzved— max seddon (@maxseddon) June 24, 2013
So now the stakeout continues back in Russia. Here are the latest updates on the hunt:
- 1:50 p.m.: And a closer look at the new report that Snowden sought out his intelligence job as part of a larger plan to leak secrets.
- 1:30 p.m.: Here's a closer look at how Ecuador became the go-to country for people who don't want to go to prison in the U.S.
- 12:50 p.m.: Carney: "This is a setback in the efforts of the Chinese to build mutual trust."
- 12:40 p.m.: The South China Morning Post, which (next to the Guardian) has had the closest contact with Snowden, reports that he has admitted to intentionally seeking out the contracting job with Booz Allen — and taking a pay cut to do so — because it would allow him to gather the proof he needed to expose the NSA surveillance programs. The Post quotes Snowden as saying on June 12: "My position with Booz Allen Hamilton granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked. That is why I accepted that position about three months ago.”
- 12:26 p.m.: Carney says secrecy laws mean he is not allowed to comment on Snowden's passport status (and he is aware of the irony), but says Hong Kong authorities were aware of his status in plenty of time to take action on it.
- 12:25 p.m.: Carney: The President has been briefed by his national security team and is monitoring the situation.
- 12:25 p.m.: Carney claims (despite competing claims from Hong Kong authorities) that their request for Snowden's arrest and extradition was complete and the U.S. was not told there were any issues with it. He says the decision to let Snowden go was "troubling" and U.S. officials "aren't buying" that it was merely an administrative decision by a local immigration official, implying that officials in Beijing were behind it.
- 12:18 p.m.: The first question for Carney is about Snowden's whereabouts: "It is our assumption that he is in Russia." He says he expects Russia to cooperate in returning Snowden to the U.S. "given our intensified cooperation following the Boston bombing."
- 12:00 p.m.: If you'd like to watch White House Press Secretary Jay Carney field (and probably evade) questions about Snowden, China, and Russia, his daily briefing will stream below shortly.
11:53 a.m.: The Monday edition of the UK's Independent newspaper featured a cover photo that claimed to be of Edward Snowden arriving in Moscow. The only problem was that it wasn't him and the photo agency who supplied the image had to retract the caption. Unfortunately, it was also the first day on the job for the Independent's new editor, Amol Rajan.
Oops. Barcroft Media have just confirmed their 'Ed Snowden picture' on the front of the Independent is not him. pic.twitter.com/jrHnxhMChS— SimonNRicketts (@SimonNRicketts) June 23, 2013
- 11:09 a.m.: Assange also defended the use of Russia and China (countries not known for their openness and lack of censorship) as conduits for Snowden's efforts: "I simply do not see the irony....We do not criticize people for seeking refugee status in the U.S. despite its use of torture, drone strikes, ... executive kill lists and so on. No one is suggesting that countries like Ecuador are engaged in those types of abuses."
- 11:00 a.m.: Assange has spelled out the many ways Wikileaks has assisted Snowden's cause, from reaching out to Iceland, Ecuador, and other nations with asylum requests to paying for Snowden's lawyers and his travel out of Hong Kong. They also provided him with refugee documents from Ecuador to assist in his travels.
- 10:45 a.m.: Check out The Atlantic Wire's other coverage of the Snowden mess today, from the way reporters have turned on him to the U.S. government's mostly futile effort to stop leaks.
- 10:20 a.m.: In a phone call with the press, Julian Assange defends Snowden and ties his case to the Bradley Manning case and the larger WikiLeaks mission to reveal government secrets. He did not reveal Snowden's location, but says he is "healthy and safe." He adds that Snowden "is not a spy, he is a whistleblower who has told the public an important truth." Assange also says he knows where Snowden is, but cannot reveal what country he is in at the moment.
Assange: "Mr. Snowden has submitted an asylum appolication to Ecuador and possibly to other countries."— Hunter Walker (@hunterw) June 24, 2013
- 9:40 a.m.: Ecuador's foreign minister is in Vietnam today (on a previously planned, unrelated trip.) He told reporters that Ecuador is considering the asylum request. Ricardo Patino said "Word 'treason' used, but who has betrayed whom? Is it people who've been betrayed, or certain elites?," adding that the U.S. has rejected extradition requests for Ecuadorian bankers charged with crimes in their home country. Patino's presence in Southeast Asia has also fed theories that Snowden never went to Moscow, and may try to meet up with the foreign minister for diplomatic protection.
Earlier (8:00 a.m.): No one in the media has seen Snowden since he arrived in Moscow from Hong Kong on Sunday, but that's because he is believed to have spent the entire time in Sheremetyevo Airport's "transit area," since he lacks both a visa and a valid passport that would allow him to enter the country. That's also why Russia claims they can't have police pick him up — because he is technically not on Russian soil. Diplomats from the Ecuadorian embassy were seen at the airport Sunday, but it doesn't appear that they were able to spirit Snowden out of the airport in order to grant him his requested asylum. So everyone will just have to wait and see if he tries to find another flight to Cuba, or another route to Ecuador, or a way to get to the Ecuadorian embassy in Moscow, or if the Russians will actually go in and nab him.
There's even some speculation that he was never in Moscow (or already left), and the entire adventure is an elaborate ruse concocted with the help of WikiLeaks lawyers. (Their founder Julian Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for more than a year. He is planning to hold a news conference at 10:00 a.m. ET.) No one saw him get off the plane in Moscow, there's been no solid confirmation that he's even in the airport, and the only statement from Wikileaks is that "He is bound for the Republic of Ecuador via a safe route for the purposes of asylum, and is being escorted by diplomats and legal advisers from WikiLeaks."
Meanwhile, the United States is letting anyone and everyone know that they are not pleased with the latest turn of events, even though they may only have themselves to blame. Hong Kong and China appear to have been less than helpful when it comes to apprehending Snowden — reports says that he was encouraged to leave by the Chinese and Hong Kong governments, so they could avoid a thorny diplomatic struggle. However, the Americans' own inaction (or incompetence) may have contributed to his escape. The U.S. government finally revoked Snowden's passport on Saturday, but they may not have done it quickly enough and they also failed to place a "red notice" on Snowden through the international law enforcement agency, Interpol. That should have prevented him from flying anywhere and also would have forced Russian authorities to respond directly to the request for his detention.
Itar-Tass: Snowden remains in the transit zone at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, source says— Michael van Poppel (@mpoppel) June 24, 2013
If he is still in Moscow, then the Americans are determined to make sure he stays there. Secretary of State John Kerry has called Snowden "a traitor to his country" and that there will "consequences" for Russia (and China) if he is allowed to reach a safe haven. Congressman Peter King said the decision to let him leave Hong Kong was "a direct slap at the U.S." The New York Times also reported that "two Western intelligence experts" believe that the Chinese "managed to drain the contents of the four laptops that Mr. Snowden said he brought to Hong Kong." That's not confirmed, of course, nor is it clear if Snowden would have allowed them to do so voluntarily. (Either way, he was no longer useful to them; another reason to let him go freely.) But it also makes the case that he was doing this for the good of America a lot harder to accept.