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NSA Leaker Edward Snowden On The Way To Moscow

Aired June 23, 2013 - 13:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John King. This Washington with breaking news being seen and watched around the world. NSA leaker Edward Snowden's sudden departure out of Hong Kong is our lead this afternoon. He's currently in Moscow and we have now learned and maybe hoping he will fly to Ecuador.

The (INAUDIBLE) group, Wikileaks, is apparently helping him. Snowden is facing espionage charges here in the United States for leaking information about the United States' government's surveillance program. CNN has resources to pull it around the globe tracking the story.

Phil Black is in Moscow, Patrick in Cuba, Jill Dougherty here in Washington, Dan Lothian at the White House. We have other correspondence as well tracking down information this hour.

Let's go first to CNN's Phil Black who joins us live from the airport in Moscow.

Phil, we know Ed Snowden is there and we know the Ecuadorian government has said he has applied for asylum. What else do you know?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Yes, that's the latest news, John, that the Ecuadorian government says he has officially applied for asylum with the support we have been seeing today which is a lot of activity on the part of diplomats from the Ecuadorian embassy here in Moscow. We can see and have seen the Ecuadorian ambassador's car parked here outside the airport terminal where Edward Snowden flew in earlier today and we believe that he is now inside that terminal in an area that is only accessible to passengers in transit. And the two of them are meeting there as we speak -- John.

KING: And Phil, obviously, his is in transit. So, if the Russian government wants to let him pass through, they could shrug and simply say her was passing through. Ecuador gave him the papers he needed and he moved on.

Has the Russian government said anything during Mr. Snowden's stay in Moscow?

BLACK: The Russian government has not responded in any way to his arrival here, no. They have said all along with their speculation that he could perhaps come here to seek asylum, that they would consider that asylum claim on its merits. But since we know that he was inbounds here and arrived here just a few hours ago. And there has been no official response of the Russian government. So we don't know precisely what its thinking is, whether it has any intention whatsoever of attempting to intercept him, whether they believe they can, whether the Ecuadorian, diplomatic intervention provides Snowden with any coverage, but otherwise (INAUDIBLE).

At this day, we don't know because as I said, no word from the Russian government whatsoever.

KING: And Phil, you are well from working there in the journalism business at the sometimes heavy hand of the Putin administration as Kremlin when it comes to issues like this. Obviously, they know Mr. Snowden is a top priority of the White House. They know Mr. Snowden has information that Russians might very much like to have in their possession about U.S. government surveillance programs, technologies, sources and methods. Is it plausible based on your experience that Mr. Snowden would pass through and the Russian government would take as what is it appears -- what would appear to zero interest?

BLACK: Well, I think you're absolutely right. The Russia would be very interested in speaking to him. For the intelligence point of view, he would be valuable. But, I guess the question that the Russian government is facing is, are they prepared to deal with the people that have been fallout and that would hit them if they tried to take advantage of Snowden's presence in this country in an overt way. If they try to debrief him, if they try to look at the material or hard way he's carrying with him, whatever type of work and so forth, that would undoubtedly upset the United States. Now, we know that is something in Russia is often prepared to do, but whether it is prepared to do in this case and deal with the fallout and deal with the diplomatic consequences to the relationship between these two countries, I think that is the question. But in terms of whether they would like to speak to him and to what extent they would prepare would be prepared to offer and even certain assistance.

KING: Phil Black is on the ground as the airport of Moscow where we believe that Snowden is still meeting with representative to the Ecuador government.

Phil, keep on top of the story and we'll check back with you as soon as more information becomes available to us.

As Phil just noted, Russia would risk diplomatic fall out, diplomatic outrage from the United States if they helps Edward Snowden move on, if it talks to Edward Snowden and then did not apprehended for the United States.

Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is in Hong Kong who has more about Snowden's departure and another diplomatic embarrassment.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Hong Kong government has made it very clear why Edward Snowden was able to leave. They say that they weren't given the right legal documentation from the United States to meet their requirements to issue a provisional arrest warrant for Edward Snowden as the United States asked for. And for that reason they say without an arrest warrant, Edward Snowden wasn't on a watch list, he was a free man free to leave the country which is what he's done.

One legal expert we've talked to here who has been watching Edward Snowden's case very, very closely has said he's shocked at what the Hong Kong government has done. He said all the government need was to know that Edward Snowden was in Hong Kong and that he was wanted by the United States for prosecution in the United States. Those were the minimum legal requirements that needed to be met. And he said as far as he could see, those were met. So not only has Hong Kong allowed Edward Snowden to leave by not arresting him, they have also said that they are now writing a letter to the U.S. government to find out about Edward Snowden's allegations of cyber hacking of China's computers in Hong Kong.

So, really, in some ways, a sort of diplomatic standoff being ratcheted up. Hong Kong, but not only letting Snowden, it would seem, leave the country a free man, but also questioning the United States over his allegations of NSA cyber hacking here.

KING: Nic Robertson in Hong Kong there. Nic is also staying on top of the story.

Joining us now in the telephone is Barton Gellman. He is the veteran national security reporter for "the Washington Post" and a fellow with the century foundation and one of the few people who has actually spoken to Edward Snowden. He knows much more. Bart Gellman is writing some of the trail blazing stories about these leaks since the beginning.

Bart, let me ask you first. If you have any information of your own from you reporting about Ed Snowden, we know he's in Moscow, about his intentions and about his progress trying to get permission, asylum in Ecuador?

BARTON GELLMAN, FELLOW, THE CENTURY FOUNDATION (via telephone): I prefer to talk only about things that he said to me earlier when he was describing his motivations and intentions.

KING: Well then let's -- go ahead.

GELLMAN: Yes. I mean, those were this. He wanted to make public enough information to enable a public debate. And he wanted to do so in a way that might inspire future whistleblowers as he saw himself it do the same. And he said there had to be a happy ending. Not many people would risk as he risked having their lives destroyed. He wanted to show that there is a way that you can do it and find asylum in a democratic country and live out your life.

KING: You understand the tuff very well. You've been reporting on these sensitive issues for some time, Bart. We have Glenn Greenwald who also spoken with Mr. Snowden. Not in the last hour, he spoke -- speaking to Candy Crowley and he says this was the only way.

Based on your experience, was there another way, could Mr. Snowden have gone to somebody in Congress, gone to some law enforcement agency, I know that's a stretch, because that is the United States government, could he have found some other way to do this without taking it to this level where the United States government says he's a felon, not a whistleblower?

GELLMAN: Look. It's not for me to judge what could or would have worked. He clearly made the judgment that that wouldn't work. And I have to say there's not a lot of good precedent for using the internal inspector general reporting methods when it comes to matters of sensitive national security. I can't think of one example in which someone was able to go that route and pollster the kind of public debate he wanted to poster. You know, the whole idea is that this whole process is beginning to end takes place this secret and an internal inspector general investigation would also take place this secret. The people he thinks are excluded from this are the general public and that's what he was trying to bring about, a public debate.

KING: And as he tries to find safe passage and asylum in Ecuador, Bart, from your conversations with him, do you know what else he has? Do you know when you see General Alexander, when you see people at the White House, when you see the chair of the intelligence committees in Congress stepping forward and saying that he has dramatically undermined and damaged U.S. National Security, do you know what other secrets he might have?

GELLMAN: I've never commented on anything like that and I think I'll stick with what I've said in public.

KING: Let me ask you another question. You've covered these issues for some time. I was struck this morning general Keith Alexander was on ABC's "this week" and he was asked how this happened. Mr. Snowden, as you well know, was a contractor, worked for a private company contracted to the United States government and the general Alexander said that they are now going to develop some way to track the system administrators, that they are now going to develop that, and that they are now going to go to partners or a buddy system so nobody is sitting alone who can access and steal, take this information.

When you hear the general Alexander say that, does that mean that there could be another, two, three, four, five, six other Edward Snowden's out there who had taken this information from the workplace, that the highest secrets of the United States government?

GELLMAN: I suppose it could. It is surprising to hear that general Alexander does not think there were sufficient auditing procedures in place. I suspect that the NSA has a very good idea of what he has taken because the systems are at minimum set up to audit, access sensitive material. And it's probably developed a pretty good idea about how he took it.

It's interesting to me that they want to lock things further down. Of course they do in relate of this kind of plea. It is the classic tradeoff and problem is this that the more you lock down information, the less likely you are to find it when you need it or less likely it is to get in the right hands when they need it. And that is at the friend of tradeoff that the NSA and other intelligence agencies have faced.

KING: Bart Gellman, I think the number one question here as we watch this drama play out beyond Mr. Snowden's travels at the moment, but more globally about this issue is who do you trust. He said that someone like him, a single analyst sitting at the desk, could, a metaphor, but flip a switch, you know, get into the computer, write the code, do whatever and listen to any conversation of anybody in the United States. He said even the president of the United States if he had that number that e-mail address or the like. The national security agency chief and others in the United States intelligence community have said that's not true, that no single analyst has that power.

From what he shared with you, do you know the answer, who is telling the truth?

GELLMAN: I can't verify the answer on that. I think his most important point and the point he was trying to make here was that once these capabilities are in place, there is only either a policy decision or a few lines of code that stand between going through an elaborate verified process and going to tapping in to any single person's communications. And he's concerned about the development of a system or apparatuses that at the push of a button, at the flip of a switch, could listen to anybody based on rules as they may change in secret in the future.

KING: Bart Gellman of "the Washington Post." Bart, appreciate your time and your insights. Thanks so much.

GELLMAN: Thank you.

KING: When we return, Edward Snowden requests asylum in Ecuador, but will they take him. Stay with us.


KING: We continue to track global breaking news this afternoon. Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who stole U.S. government secrets about the surveillance program, was this Hong Kong. Now, he is in Moscow trying to gets a sig asylum in Ecuador. We know he has meeting with Ecuadorian ambassador to Russia in an airport in Moscow as we continue to track the story.

Joining me here in Washington to discuss the fallout, our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash, our diplomatic correspondent Jill Dougherty, and former FBI deputy director Tom Fuentes.

Tom, let me start with you. He is in transit in Moscow. So he's officially not in Russia since he's passing through the airport. The United States government has made clear it wants Mr. Snowden and it wants him returned. If the Russian government wanted to cooperate, is there any question in your mind they could grab him and turn him over is this.

THOMAS FUENTES, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Well, the question would be whether he is illegally in Russia or even in the airport. If he is just traveling and his passport wasn't revoked and he traveled legally, there is no extradition treaty, there would be no requirement for the Russians to turn help back over to the U.S.

KING: It would be no requirement.

FUENTES: It would no requirement to hold him -- well, there would be no legal authority, I will put that way, to hold him. Now, if in fact state department did revoke his passport last week which I heard they did, then he's traveling around unless Wikileaks or someone has somehow arranged for him to have a passport from another country that none of us are aware of at this point, but if the U.S. passport was his only passport, then he's not traveling legally and even though he's technically not entered through his passport control, he still is in position where they could grab him and have him deported back to the country of his citizenship or deport him back to his last country that he entered from which in this case would be back to Hong Kong, part of China.

KING: In a drama, Jill, that involves a lot of secrets, a lot of espionage, a lot of agencies that years ago some of them are secret. They weren't even publicly acknowledged, we have this remarkable development that the Ecuadorian foreign minister or ambassador has tweeted out, putting in to public knowledge that this man has requested asylum.

Why Ecuador and does the United States have any hope of stopping Ecuador or convincing Ecuador not to take him?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, relations with Ecuador are not that bad. They are not particularly good, but they not really bad. The president is a socialist kind of Chavez mode. But, I wouldn't say they have bad relations. It's just that you have again those three countries remember Assange, of course is there, and you also have the three countries originally that were looked at, Venezuela, Ecuador and Cuba, all kind of with the same approach to things. So, it seems as if you take Assange at his word, he said go to Latin American countries and that's indeed what he's going to do.

KING: Mr. Snowden, Dana, says the government is lying. He says when the national security agency and administration tells that you it can't check your personal phone call, that it doesn't have that information available, that it can't monitor your e-mail, that a rogue analyst can't flip a switch to get that information and you've had both national security agency, members of Congress saying he's lying about his ability. But there is a question of trust here and credibility. Not only about what Mr. Though den is saying, but whether these agencies can protect their own secrets. Is there not?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And in fact, you know, just the fact that the NSA director was out testifying publicly before Congress and actually on television, on a Sunday show, is a big deal and it shows you the kind of effort that they know in a they have to try to make to try to deal with that trust and credibility issue that they have. Listen to what Keith Alexander, general Alexander said about this, this morning.


GENERAL KEITH ALEXANDER, NSA DIRECTOR: The system did not work as it should have. He betrayed the trust and confidence we had in him. This is an individual with top secret clearance whose duty it was to administer these networks. He betrayed that confidence and stole some of our secrets. We are now putting this place actions that would give us the ability to track our system administrators, what they're doing, what they're taking.


BASH: And one of those systems that they're putting in place is what they call a two-man rule. Meaning, if you are a contractor, you can't just be sitting there by yourself looking at data or maybe in Edward Snowden's case downloading the data to take away because there will be somebody looking at you. And then the question is why wasn't this in place before, kind of really makes your head spin.

KING: It does and forgive me to put to the man who has worked in law enforcement, you have general Alexander, a decorated damn good, I'm going to use that language, public servant in one of the toughest jobs in government. But when he's out there saying 11 years after 9/11, so 10, 11 years into this program, we're going to now developing a system to track our system administrators, people who have access to just about everything. We are going just now go to the buddy system.

Just the other day Bob Muller, the outgoing FBI director, again a man who deserves a medal in the American people for what he has been through and the stress of his job for the last 10, 11 years saying, yes, we have this drone program and now we're going to develop the protocols. The public statements from people in these highly sensitive positions, Tom, don't inspire a lot of confidence.

FUENTES: No, and I think in this situation, and it was my understanding that they have very adequate and extensive audit trails when you access something. And I know when I was still trying to access data when I was in the FBI, that you know, thumb drives can't be placed in and it's tracking anytime you download to a DVD or thumb drive or another computer. You know, there is a trail created that it was you individually who logged in and removed that data and what the data was is also tracked.

So, for him to say now they will develop that, I don't understand that. I don't know what's been going on over there. Because the way every system I tried to work with, there was an extensive audit trail to track, you know, what was taken.

KING: It feeds the worst fears of people who say these programs developed after a more risk tragedy here in the United States with the best of intentions to protect the United States from another attack. But the worst fear of people is once the government starts collecting these information, it gets bigger and bigger, you start contracting it out, you are hiring people who you don't know as well. They're not in store if you will and that opens up any big to abuses.

FUENTES: That's true. And I would question answering questions in a public situation. If you can't answer the question, don't make up another story. I mean, we saw the attorney general in a hearing recently asked a question and he said right back to the senator this is not the place for me to answer that. And I'm not going to answer it. And most of these hearings, when they have these briefings with the intelligence committee, House or Senate, they're secret briefings. They are close to the media and close to the public. So, when you see public testimony being given or going on a talk show and giving that out publicly, didn't be on a show and lie. Either don't go on the show at all or say what the boundaries are.

KING: As critics of these programs, Senator Rand Paul, the libertarian side, run wide than the liberal progressive side, one of their problems now, they say, is when people tell them these things, they don't believe them because things they have said in the past have turned out to be either flatly not the true or somewhere in the gray.

BASH: And that really does speak to the problem you are talking about earlier about the issue of trust. Because from my approach on Capitol Hill, what we're hearing constantly is there is oversight going on. We as members of the Senate intelligence committees, we are overseeing this in an incredibly specific and detailed way. The house intelligence chairman, Mike Rogers, said that the IRS had this kind of oversight, everybody would get a huge refund check every year. But the problem is we have to take those word for it. It is all cleaned up (ph) and all suit that we don't know that what anybody is saying at this point is actually true. I mean, when there is a rust deficit really, it really hurts everybody.

KING: Dana, Jill, Tom, stay with us. We are going to take a quick break. When we come back there are questions about whether the state department has revoked Mr. Snowden's passport.

Also, the director of the National Security Agency weighs in on Edwards Snowden, excuse me, and just how did he manage to get away with all the classified information.


ALEXANDER: In considerable debate in the press about --



KING: Breaking you news this day at CNN on the status of Edward Snowden, he of course, the NSA leaker who is in Moscow trying to make his way to Ecuador.

Jill Dougherty has some new information.

DOUGHERTY: Right. A source familiar with the case does confirm to CNN that his U.S. passport was revoked. So, of course, it raises immediate questions how did he get out of Hong Kong and how is he traveling around the world, at least in Moscow.

KING: Well, of course. Tom Fuentes, what does that mean? He's a man without a passport.

FUENTES: Well, the possibilities are that even despite the law, the two countries, Hong Kong and of course China behind them and the U.S., may have agreed to just go ahead let him get out of Hong Kong. Just as an agreement, back channel agreement. I think that's probably what has been going on here. There is a lot of back channel activity between the two countries of China not wanting to appear to eagerly take advantage of the situation. The U.S., you know, both sides have a number of economic equities with each other. Neither side wants to poke a stick in the eye of the other one. So if he just gets out of dodge, they're happy with it.

And I think that's probably what happened is that the Chinese absolutely did not want him to be given asylum or allow him to defect there. Or in essence, create an open situation where they're taking advantage of gaining intelligence from the U.S. Obviously, both countries do it, but it's a secret. It is an open secret.

KING: And so, if he is sitting at the airport in Moscow and he has no passport, can Ecuador give him a passport, can they grant asylum without any documentation?

FUENTES: Yes. And I think that having dealt with these extradition issues and there is no extradition treaty with Russia, but having dealt with these international fugitive cases, countries can have agreements in place, they can have extraditions and agree that we're absolutely going to do this and the fine print says unless we don't want to, unless we want to find a national security loophole or some other issue. So in a way, Ecuador is in a position to do what they want. Russia is in a position to do what they want. They can take him into custody or they can just say move on.

KING: Would it have made any difference, Jill, if they had done what they want right from the beginning instead of waiting until now or is this just proof that there are rules and then there are rules?

DOUGHERTY: Well, I think Tom's point is right. That there is really the political side to this. And if everyone wants to kind of wash their hands, not be directly involved and just kind of let it happen, let him go, please, then, it wouldn't have made much difference. It could have happen awhile ago. They're not saying precisely when it did happen.

KING: Not saying precisely when it did happen.

Let's check in -- Jill and Tom, please stay with us. Let's go for the White House, to Dan Lothian.

Dan, the president of the United States has seen this man. He very much wants extradited back to the United States. So, the president calls him a felon. The president says he's undermined U.S. national security and the full weight of the justice system should be brought to bear. What is the president doing as this unfolds?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't know exactly what the president is doing. We know that he is here at the White House, not at least commenting publicly on this case. But we know from justice department officials that there are conversations ongoing not only with Hong Kong but also with some of these other countries that potentially could provide some kind of safety for Mr. Snowden. We do know that they have reached out Cuba, also to Venezuela and Ecuador as well. And they are trying to get in contact with law enforcement officials to get cooperation from them.

Clearly this is an embarrassment for the Obama administration and there is a lot of concern because they were fairly confident here that in fact Hong Kong would have extradited Snowden back to the United States. Just yesterday speaking to CBS News, the national security adviser, Tom Donilon, said that historically, the U.S. and Hong Kong have a long agreement when it comes to law enforcement issue and he was fairly confident that in fact, Snowden would be extradited. So further complicates it and then you throw in Russia now and potentially other counties, really, a diplomatic mess for this White House.

KING: And Dan, when you say a diplomatic mess, are they saying anything at all, I mean, Tom Fuentes making the point that if he's technically not in Russia because he's at the airport, but we all know, given the action, the heavy hand of the Putin government on occasion that if Russia wanted to help, we think they could. Are they saying anything at all there about potential of trying to find a way to improve the Putin relationship by getting help here?

LOTHIAN: Well, look. They're always trying to get the relationship, you know, improved between the United States and Russia and Putin in particular, but nothing from the White House up on Capitol Hill though hearing from law makers. We're saying that, you know, this is just another example of Putin essentially poking the U.S. in the eye. I mean, it's another example some believe of sort of Putin's attitude toward the United States and using this case to sort of show the United States, you know, what they can do.

So, I think, you know, right now there are a lot of ongoing conversations that we simply don't know about happening behind the scenes. Not only with Hong Kong, but with some of these other countries in south America that could potentially be a home for though Snowden.

KING: Right. Important point there by our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian. On what is going on behind the scenes right now, much more significant than what we see in public. We'll be back in just a bit.

When we return, my next guest is not surprised if NSA leaker, Edward Snowden, finds safe haven in Cuba or Venezuela. Congressman joins us next.


KING: Breaking news coverage continues.

Joining us, our crime and justice correspondent, Joe Johns.

Joe, we're sitting here in Washington, D.C. Edward Snowden is at an airport in Moscow. Is there anything the justice department can do? They say they want to extradite him. They want to bring him home. They want to bring it to justice. What can they do?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they've been trying to get it back and so far it hasn't worked very well for them. The bottom line on the justice department is when he was in Hong Kong, they did what they thought they were supposed to do. They put out that warrant and said get him. And the Hong Kong officials, whether they were just asking questions to try to buy some time or whether they actually had real questions, we don't know right now. We don't know the time line. End of the day, the United States justice department was working on trying to answer those questions around Friday night or so and now Snowden is gone.

So, it's a difficult position for them. They say they want to talk to Hong Kong. They want to have some discussions because it creates real concerns for them about their relationship. But it's a real big PR problem for the U.S. justice department. And you know, people who watch movies have seen how certain persons get snatched off the streets and brought back to the United States, can't do that in this situation I'm told by a lot of legal experts because it's already a PR nightmare and that whole question that sort of goes over top of all of this which is persecution of whistleblowers here in the United States, that is an overlay. So you can't just treat this guy anyway because the world is watching.

KING: The world is watching. Among those watching is one of the leading Republican voices in Congress on foreign affairs issues especially the countries where Mr. Snowden wants to seek asylum in Ecuador, perhaps to Venezuela or Cuba.

Joining us from New York is Florida congresswoman, Ileana Ros- Lehtinen.


KING: Good afternoon. Thanking for joining us on this day.

I want to start with this issue that Joe Johns was just talking about. The United States justice department says extradite him to Hong Kong. Hong Kong says he left. Beijing says he left. Now he's in Russia. There is a question of whether he'll be allowed to move on. What does it say when my words you have leading developments like China and perhaps next Russia playing Pontius Pilate, if you will, washing their hands and saying go along?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, I think calls into question what kind of relationship we ever have had with China and Russia. We pretend that everything is Hunky-dory (ph) when it is not. It isn't with China, it isn't with Russia, certainly isn't with Cuba, with Venezuela and nor with Ecuador.

Now, if he finds himself in Ecuador, people are going to say, well, that seems like an all right country because the leader there, Correa, doesn't say as crazy statements as Castro or Chavez when he was alive, but he is just as anti-freedom of press as the other dictators want to be. You know, there are very few press freedoms in Ecuador and now Correa is going look like he's the defender of a whistleblower. Well, this guy should come back to the United States and we have a lot of whistleblowers protections. Let him face the consequences and let this play out. But to go to enemy states because that is what China, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, potentially Ecuador, these are countries that don't have the friendliest relations with the United States.

But interestingly I think this a great point, is that these are countries that violate press freedoms every day and yet he's seeking political asylum in those very countries where he if he were to pull a Snowden in these countries, they would jail him immediately.

KING: Well, his argument through people's spoken to including "the Guadian" correspondent Glenn Greenwald is that he has no choice at this moment.

Let me ask you this question first. You know these countries well. We are told the state department has reached out saying do not let him in and if he does arrive there, please expel him and return him to us. Do you have any confidence that that would happen or if he gets -- he's at the Moscow airport. If he's, right now, getting paperwork from Ecuadorian diplomats, is he gone?

ROS-LEHTINEN: I have every confidence that he will give these countries every part of the information that he has at his disposal, that these countries will use it against the United States, that I don't question his motivations. That's up to him.

But what I do know is that I know the leaders of the country and I know that the way that these country leaders operate, and that is against the people, against basic freedoms that this gentleman is supposedly advocating for transparency, accountability, freedom of expression to the people. Where in China, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, do you see those espoused as leading values. They're espoused in the United States. Let him do what he did and let the process play out.

But these countries will use that information that he will undoubtedly give them against us. So I think this is not a public relations nightmare for the problem for the United States. I think this is a national security problem if we don't have these countries cooperate and they will not.

KING: Well, help us understand, if you can, I assume you've received some of the briefings. What does he have?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, you know, I'm not going to give out any information that we've gotten in the briefings. But if he feels compelled to give information to the people, and this is supposedly what he has said he wants, he's upset with the United States having a surveillance program that has not been revealed to the American people, yet he goes to the very countries that have at best very tense relationships with the United States, and that countries that do not value press freedoms whatsoever. So why are they allowing him to go into these countries? They're getting something out of it.

Ecuador is not doing it as a humanitarian gesture. Rafael Correa wants to have some information. What will they do with the information? He will use it against the United States. He will give to Madura in Venezuela. Madura is a puppet of the Castro brothers in Cuba. This is not going to play out well for the national security interests of the United States.

KING: Sober words there from the Republican congresswoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Thank you, John.

KING: Thank you so much for your time today. Thank you.

When we return in an in depth look at Edward Snowden's effort to seek asylum in Ecuador.


KING: The latest now on our breaking news about NSA leaker Edward Snowden. Here's what we know right now.

Mr. Snowden is this Moscow. He flew there from Hong Kong earlier today. We have also learned Edward Snowden is now seeking asylum in Ecuador and that the United States has revoked his passport. Edward Snowden is facing espionage charge in the United States for leaking information about the U.S. government's domestic surveillance program.

With me now is Tom Foreman. He is at the magic wall. He is going to tell us about Edward Snowden's global flight around the world -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let's look at this, John, on how to sort of broke down. This is where he traveled from, from Hong Kong up to Moscow up here. And from all appearances, he's trying to create not only physical buffers around himself, but perception buffers. Look at the statement from Wikileaks and look at the words are they using here. They don't call him any kind of a traitor or spy. They say this is a whistleblower who exposed evidence of a global surveillance regime conducted by the U.S. and the UK. They said they are trying to help him by having escorted diplomats and legal guardians to get into a democratic nation via a safe route. They're presenting him as a man truly on the run from forces beyond himself that may not be fair.

Now, let's look at where he is. In the airport here, one thing that I haven't heard a lot of talk about yet that I'd like to hear some of the thoughts on the panel on, he's at the airport out here. What if the goal isn't Ecuador at all, what if the goal is simply at the moment the Ecuadorian embassy, which isn't that far away, which doesn't take that much for the Russians to take him out the back door of this airport. It is a big airport. It easy for that to happen and for him to simply move over to another place like Julian Assange did and have a holding place for a period of time. I don't k know if that's in play. But it could be. It's one of the ideas. Because bear in mind, if you look at the nations in the world where we have treaties where we can have people brought out, basically everywhere over here, we have a treaty for extradition. We have treaties for extradition in here, a numb nations out here and all over in here. But that's just a sense of where we have some of the treaties. A lot of the other places we do not.

However, it's always important to bear in mind, even the nations we have deals with, if they don't agree it's a crime, they don't have to send the person to us, if they don't like our penalty. And in our country the penalty for treason, if that is this arise to, can include the death penalty. Countries that don't have the death penalty even can say that's reason enough to not let him go. Although, as pointed out, a minute ago by one of your guest, on a really interesting point here John, is the notion that Ecuador of all places right now under President Rafael Correa, is hardly a champion of free speech. It is a very strange marriage here to think that would be the country whether in the embassy over here in Moscow or the country itself, would be the place he winds up -- John.

KING: Fascinating perspective there, global hunt.

Tom Foreman, thanks so much.

And joining us now from Havana, one of the places where some people think it's possible, possible, Mr. Snowden could head is Patrick Oppmann.

Patrick, we're told he's trying to get to Ecuador. Has there been anything said by the Castro government in Cuba and is Havana potentially a pass-through point on the way from Moscow to Ecuador?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via phone): You know, morning long and probably afternoon we've been talking to Cuban officials and so far all they tell us is that they're monitoring the situation and that there is no announcement to make. There is no decision has been made.

But I will you, John, Cuban officials have been watching this case for the last few days taking some delight and embarrassment of the United States. I even had one Cuban official ask me could this really be really that Edward Snowden to them is too good to be true, that a former NSA employee would be spilling secrets (INAUDIBLE) in such a public way.

So we're hearing now that the United States is reaching out to Cuban government, the Ecuadorian government, the Venezuelan government, trying to get help. And if he does show up in one of these country, that you know, these are countries, John, that even while they say they would like a better relationship with the United States, they realize this is intelligence bonanza, an opportunity to embarrass their adversary, the United States, and it seems at least for the moment they won't pass up on the chance to gain all this intelligence and really cause even greater embarrassment for the United States government, John.

KING: Patrick Oppmann is part of our global resources as we track the story.

Patrick is in Havana. We'll stay in touch throughout the day.

Patrick, thank you. Let's get back to our conversation with Joe Johns, Jill Dougherty and Tom Fuentes.

Jill, diplomacy is your business. You've worked in many of these places throughout the world.

DOUGHERTY: And Hong Kong.

KING: And Hong Kong. When Tom Foreman talks about Wikileaks, they are talking about they are protecting him after he exposed a global surveillance regime. Patrick Oppmann talks about, you know, this governments celebrating what they believe is an embarrassment to the Obama administration.

Joe Johns has talked about the frustration of the justice department which is saying please help me and being told no. How bad is this from a prestige standing point to the administration in the global state?

DOUGHERTY: I think it's very bad. Because on every level, I mean, just the charges that Snowden is leveling against the United States are very bad. And you've seen the Chinese saying we are very disturbed by these reports that they are hacking into our systems. The Russians have been pretty critical too about that enough quite as much as a Chinese. You have the way that is being handled now by the U.S. looking almost like cops and robbers, whether it is, as Tom was indicating, maybe intention am or not, looking as if they can't even find this guy or get him.

And then in a PR sense, it really damages the U.S. reputation as a country of democracy. These countries, Russia, China, use that. And throw it back in the United States face to say this is democracy? Doesn't look like democracy to us. It's very bad.

KING: And we should always be smart in our business and say we don't know what we don't know. And we don't know what conversations are going on to try to make this happen.

But from a law enforcement, on the intelligence standpoint, when general Alexander, when other officials, when the chairman and chairwoman of the intelligence committee say, he has caused a irreparable harm, you know, the people and the Snowden can't say they always say that. That anytime you try to expose or shine some light on some of the nefarious stuff, in their view that they are joined, they say, you know, they pull out the 9/11 card and they say you're undermining our national security. Has he significantly dramatically undermined the national security?

FUENTES: We don't know the extent of what he's taken. We know some of that. And to that extent, we know that he's in a position to do tremendous harm. Whether he's taken more than we know about, I think he has harmed everything. And you know, the reputation and confidence of not just the American people, but the rest of the world in the United States is important as a matter of protecting our national security. We want them to share information and we want them to trust us. So, even just disclosing this material and exposing the inability of the U.S. to maintain this program as a secret program, that's already damage in and of itself.

KING: We know we have treaties with people and we have agreements with people. Sometimes they're forced, sometimes they're not. Sometimes somebody finds the semi-colon or loophole. From your experience in trying to track down, when you're at the FBI, as somebody who is overseas, when you have somebody who now fits Mr. Snowden's portfolio, they want to extradite him. He has no passport. They stripped and revoked his passport. He's sitting in an airport in Moscow, is there some legal standing for the Russian government or some international standing for the Russian government to say, I'm sorry to the diplomats from Ecuador say. You may think that he is yours. You may think you are going to give him safe haven but we are taking him and we're putting him on a plane to New York or Washington.

FUENTES: Exactly. If the Russians find out, they are notified officially by state department that his passport is revoked and he doesn't have any other valid passport at the moment, they can put him on the next nonstop flight Moscow to New York and that --


FUENTES: They have done that in the past.

KING: If they have been notified and they don't, what's that say?

FUENTES: Well, they can find loopholes and excuses and all that. The reason there's no extradition treaty between the U.S. and Russia is because the U.S. didn't want it. We didn't want them asking for extradition of political dissidents or, you know, someone that was considered a political person rather than a criminal. So, the fact there's no extradition treaty in place and we've turned them down many times, you know, you get into the back and forth of it. These international law enforcement issues become political, become extensions of foreign policy. They get wrapped up in the diplomacy issues. And I think what happened with Hong Kong, I'm convinced, this is my opinion, that back channel there was a discussion between the U.S. and China to allow them to save face, to allow -- just let him go, get him out of town.

KING: If that's the case and if Mr. Snowden gets to place like e Ecuador and gets away, they may regret that.

Tom Fuentes, Jill Dougherty, Jo Johns, this is a part of our breaking news coverage.

And when we return, Edward Snowden, in his own words.


KING: When Edward Snowden went public revealing he is the source of explosive NSA leaks, he explained to "the Guardian" newspaper why he did it.

Here is Edward Snowden in his own words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) EDWARD SNOWDEN, NSA LEAKER: When you're in positions of privilege access like a systems administrator for these sort of intelligence community agencies, you're exposed to a lot more information on a broader scale than the average employee. And because of that, you see things that may be disturbing. But, over the course of a normal person's career you'd only see one or two of these instances.

When you see everything, you see them on a more frequent basis. And you recognize that some of these things are actually abuses. And when you talk to people about them, in a place like this, where this is the normal state of business, people tend not to take them very seriously and, you know, move on from them. Over time, that awareness of wrongdoing sort of builds up and you feel compelled to talk about it and the more you talk about it the more you're ignored, the more you told it's not a problem until eventually you realize these things need to be determined by the public, not by somebody who was simply hired by the government.


KING: I'm John King in Washington. Thanks for spending time with us this afternoon. Breaking news coverage continues right now with Fredericka Whitfield at the CNN center -- Fred.