Ecuador Backs Off NSA Leaker Snowden, Citing Asylum Rules
(This post was updated at 6:17 p.m.)
Fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden said in a letter released Monday that he was "unbowed" and thanked his "new friends" for his continued liberty.
The letter is the first time Snowden has broken his silence since he fled to Moscow eight days ago, and it comes on the same day Russian immigration officials say he applied for political asylum in the country.
Snowden is being pursued by U.S. authorities after leaking details of the National Security Agency's surveillance programs. He's holed up in Moscow airport, and Russian President Vladimir Putin says he can stay if he agrees to certain conditions.
Here's Snowden's letter, released by WikiLeaks, in full:
"One week ago I left Hong Kong after it became clear that my freedom and safety were under threat for revealing the truth. My continued liberty has been owed to the efforts of friends new and old, family, and others who I have never met and probably never will. I trusted them with my life and they returned that trust with a faith in me for which I will always be thankful.
"On Thursday, President Obama declared before the world that he would not permit any diplomatic "wheeling and dealing" over my case. Yet now it is being reported that after promising not to do so, the President ordered his Vice President to pressure the leaders of nations from which I have requested protection to deny my asylum petitions.
"This kind of deception from a world leader is not justice, and neither is the extralegal penalty of exile. These are the old, bad tools of political aggression. Their purpose is to frighten, not me, but those who would come after me.
"For decades the United States of America have been one of the strongest defenders of the human right to seek asylum. Sadly, this right, laid out and voted for by the U.S. in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is now being rejected by the current government of my country. The Obama administration has now adopted the strategy of using citizenship as a weapon. Although I am convicted of nothing, it has unilaterally revoked my passport, leaving me a stateless person. Without any judicial order, the administration now seeks to stop me exercising a basic right. A right that belongs to everybody. The right to seek asylum.
"In the end the Obama administration is not afraid of whistleblowers like me, Bradley Manning or Thomas Drake. We are stateless, imprisoned, or powerless. No, the Obama administration is afraid of you. It is afraid of an informed, angry public demanding the constitutional government it was promised — and it should be.
"I am unbowed in my convictions and impressed at the efforts taken by so many."
Earlier, the Interfax news agency quoted a Russian consular official at the airport as saying Snowden's representative, Wikileaks activist Sarah Harrison, filed an asylum request on Sunday.
Update at 12:55 p.m. ET: Putin Discusses Snowden
Snowden is free to leave Russia at any time, says that country's president, Vladimir Putin. Solidifying his position against extraditing the former NSA contractor to the U.S., Putin says it's up to Snowden to find somewhere to go.
But, he says, for Snowden to remain in Russia, he'll have to stop leaking U.S. secrets, Putin added.
"If he wants to stay here, there is one condition: He must stop his work aimed at harming our American partners, as strange as that sounds coming from my lips," Putin said, according to Reuters.
Our original post continues:
From Moscow, NPR's Corey Flintoff reports for our Newscast unit that neither Ecuador nor Russia has brought clarity to Snowden's situation:
"Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa told The Associated Press on Sunday that Snowden is in the hands of the Russian authorities and cannot leave a Moscow airport transit area without their consent.
"Correa said Ecuador can't consider an asylum request from the 30-year-old intelligence analyst unless he applies in Ecuador or at an Ecuadoran Embassy.
"Meanwhile, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Snowden is not on the Kremlin's agenda.
"Dmitri Peskov did say, however, that Russian authorities would take into account requests from Russian groups that want the government to grant Snowden asylum in Russia."
Officials from Iceland, named as another possible destination for Snowden, have also said that anyone seeking asylum must be in the country or at one of its embassies.
Late last week, Ecuadorean officials declared that travel papers from their country that promised Snowden's safe passage were not valid, The Associated Press reported.
The United States has revoked Snowden's passport. The former NSA contractor has received advice from WikiLeaks, the group whose founder, Julian Assange, remains holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. As Mark reported Sunday, Assange says Snowden "is a hero."
Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry says he believes China's help would have "made a difference" in the case of Snowden, who was hiding in Hong Kong when classified documents he had provided to the media were published.