Skip to main content

As Snowden seeks asylum, U.S. bides its time

By Elise Labott and Matt Smith, CNN
June 27, 2013 -- Updated 1313 GMT (2113 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "Time is our friend," a senior administration official says
  • NSA leaker Snowden faces U.S. espionage charges
  • He's now in Moscow, which seems eager to send him on his way
  • Snowden has asked Ecuador for asylum; the U.S. has warned against granting it

Washington (CNN) -- The United States is biding its time in its effort to get fugitive leaker Edward Snowden delivered to its custody, hoping that Russia wearies of him and Ecuador decides against granting him asylum, senior U.S. officials said Wednesday.

Snowden, the former National Security Agency computer contractor who exposed details of U.S. surveillance programs, faces espionage charges if shipped back home. He is currently cooling his heels at Moscow's international airport, where he arrived Sunday from Hong Kong.

"Time is our friend," one senior administration official told CNN. "The Russians now just want him gone, and I'm not sure if they care at this point if he goes to a country that might be inclined to send him back."

Putin says Russia won't expel Snowden
Ecuador: We didn't help Snowden
Snowden's travel limbo
Does Snowden have 'doomsday insurance'?

The State Department revoked Snowden's passport after charges were brought last week. Officials in Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous Chinese territory, said it needed more information before it could act on a U.S. request to hold him there. WikiLeaks said Snowden flew out of Hong Kong on refugee papers issued by Ecuador, where he has requested asylum, but Ecuador's deputy foreign minister said Wednesday that his country had provided him no documents.

4 options for the U.S. to get Snowden back

Russian President Vladimir Putin said his government won't hand Snowden over to U.S. authorities, but seemed eager to wash his hands of the issue.

"The sooner he selects his final destination point, the better both for us and for himself," Putin said Tuesday during a visit to Finland.

Snowden has the assistance of WikiLeaks, the organization that facilitates the disclosure of classified information. Ecuador has already granted asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been holed up in the country's embassy in London for a year after losing a court battle to avoid extradition to Sweden.

Washington has urged countries where Snowden may be headed, including Ecuador, to turn him away. But the senior administration official said Ecuadorian officials appear to be avoiding high-level discussions on the matter. Their ambassador to Washington is out of the country, and their foreign minister is on a trip to Asia.

Speaking in Vietnam this week, Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said his government will consider the U.S. request when it decides on Snowden's plea for asylum, which the United States considers a sign that the highest levels of the Ecuadorian government have gotten the message. The administration official said the fact that Ecuador is not rushing a decision is the best possible news, since Snowden will remain a hot potato in the Russians' hands during that time.

Snowden: I took job to gather evidence

U.S.-Ecuadorian ties have been strained during the administration of Ecuador's current president, Rafael Correa. A leftist ally of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Correa closed an outpost at an Ecuadorian air base that the U.S. military used to conduct anti-drug operations. Washington and Quito expelled each others' ambassadors in 2011 after an American diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks suggested that Correa was aware of acts of corruption by the police high command, and the United States has criticized recent laws that international observers say limit press freedoms.

The $20 million the United States provides in aid to Ecuador is a relatively small amount, and the administration is holding off on talk of any additional pressure until its government makes a decision on asylum.

"We are not at the point where we are making threats yet," the official said. "We are reserving the harder line until they know for sure whether the Ecuadorians are willing to take him in."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Data mining & privacy
June 23, 2013 -- Updated 1425 GMT (2225 HKT)
He's a high-school dropout who worked his way into the most secretive computers in U.S. intelligence as a defense contractor.
May 29, 2014 -- Updated 1226 GMT (2026 HKT)
Traitor or patriot? Low-level systems analyst or highly trained spy?
May 29, 2014 -- Updated 1927 GMT (0327 HKT)
What are the takeaways from Snowden's NBC interview? You might be surprised.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1152 GMT (1952 HKT)
Months after accepting asylum in Russia, Snowden asked Putin about Moscow's own surveillance practices.
March 12, 2014 -- Updated 1643 GMT (0043 HKT)
A federal judge has refused the Obama administration's request to extend storage of classified NSA telephone surveillance data beyond the current five-year limit.
March 10, 2014 -- Updated 0044 GMT (0844 HKT)
From his sanctuary in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Julian Assange said that everyone in the world will be just as effectively monitored soon -- at least digitally.
March 11, 2014 -- Updated 0039 GMT (0839 HKT)
In a rare public talk via the Web, fugitive NSA leaker Edward Snowden urged a tech conference audience to help "fix" the U.S. government's surveillance of its citizens.
August 2, 2013 -- Updated 0355 GMT (1155 HKT)
The White House is "very disappointed" that National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden has been granted temporary asylum in Russia.
December 10, 2013 -- Updated 1357 GMT (2157 HKT)
Spies with surveillance agencies in the U.S. and U.K. infiltrated video games like "World of Warcraft" in a hunt for terrorists "hiding in plain sight" online.
August 2, 2013 -- Updated 1139 GMT (1939 HKT)
Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden both held jobs that gave them access to some of their country's most secret and sensitive intelligence. They chose to share that material with the world and are now paying for it.
August 1, 2013 -- Updated 1435 GMT (2235 HKT)
The NSA's controversial intelligence-gathering programs have prevented 54 terrorist attacks around the world, including 13 in the United States.
August 1, 2013 -- Updated 1854 GMT (0254 HKT)
You've never heard of XKeyscore, but it definitely knows you. The National Security Agency's top-secret program essentially makes available everything you've ever done on the Internet.
August 18, 2013 -- Updated 1304 GMT (2104 HKT)
You may have never heard of Lavabit and Silent Circle. That's because they offered encrypted (secure) e-mail services, something most Americans have probably never thought about needing.
July 24, 2013 -- Updated 1854 GMT (0254 HKT)
"Any analyst at any time can target anyone. Any selector, anywhere ... I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone."
July 2, 2013 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
President Barack Obama responds to outrage by European leaders over revelations of alleged U.S. spying.
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1954 GMT (0354 HKT)
Browse through a history of high-profile intelligence leaking cases.
July 2, 2013 -- Updated 1437 GMT (2237 HKT)
Former President George W. Bush talks Snowden, AIDS, Mandela and his legacy.
June 26, 2013 -- Updated 1304 GMT (2104 HKT)
Edward Snowden took a job with an NSA contractor in order to gather evidence about U.S. surveillance programs.
June 19, 2013 -- Updated 1047 GMT (1847 HKT)
With reports of NSA snooping, many people have started wondering about their personl internet security.
August 14, 2013 -- Updated 1352 GMT (2152 HKT)
Click through our gallery to learn about other major leaks and what happened in the aftermath.
June 9, 2013 -- Updated 2002 GMT (0402 HKT)
What really goes on inside America's most secretive agency? CNN's Chris Lawrence reports.
ADVERTISEMENT