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NSA Leaker on the Run; Are the Russians Grilling NSA Leaker?; Ecuador an Ironic Refuge for NSA Leaker; Snowden Straining U.S.-Russia Relations; Did Snowden Take Job Intending to Leak Info?; Lots of Reporting but No Sign of Snowden on Plane

Aired June 25, 2013 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And we want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. This is a SITUATION ROOM special report. "NSA Leaker on the Run."

Russia unveils where the NSA leaker is hiding and refuses to hand him over to the United States. We're live inside the Moscow airport right now. We're searching for Edward Snowden's exact location. And we'll talk to someone who tells us he knows exactly where Snowden is but isn't saying.

Also, what does all of this mean for the United States' relationship with Russia, now that Vladimir Putin won't help the president catch a globe-trotting fugitive?

As far as we know right now, the NSA leaker is holed up inside a Moscow airport planning the next move in his cat-and-mouse game with the world. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, confirmed today that Edward Snowden remained in the airport's transit area, a sort of international no-man's land. He says Snowden is free to leave and he won't be handing him over to the United States.

The White House is asking Russia to expel Snowden without delay based on his passport being revoked and the espionage charges against him. But the Obama administration may not have a whole lot of leverage to force President Putin's hand.

John Defterios is in the airport. He's in that transit area. He's joining us now live.

John, set the scene for us. What do we know about his whereabouts where you are?

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When we first heard from President Putin, it was kind of in a sense changing the outlook here of what was coming out of Moscow.

It broke that code of silence. According to President Putin, Edward Snowden is in this transit area where we are. It's a fairly large area. But unlike the passengers that are roaming around here where we have 24 hours of being in the transit area without an outbound ticket, Edward Snowden has been here close to 72 hours.

(AUDIO GAP) Mr. Putin said that he's a free man, he's free to move, that is not the case. We have not seen him here. He's behind closed doors. The other thing is, there's only one transit hotel he could be in. We checked with that hotel, Wolf, and he's still not there.

Snowden is likely here tucked behind a high-security area. That's the latest we know right now. And we do know that President Putin thought it was important for him to weigh in here, suggesting there's not (AUDIO GAP) intrigue being conducted here by Moscow.

They would like to see the back of him, whether that's asylum to a place like Ecuador or perhaps a negotiation with Washington. One slight twist here, Wolf, today, President Putin suggested while he was in Finland that perhaps the FBI director and his counterpart in Russia can start having a conversation. It was at least put out there. This is not diplomacy, but the rule of law. And that has not been determined yet.

BLITZER: John Defterios, we're going to get back to you shortly. I know you are going to be inside that hotel in that transit area as well. We will get back to you for more. If you see Edward Snowden, just let us know.

Meanwhile, the White House is asking Russia to expel Snowden without delay based on his passport being revoked and those serious espionage charges that have been leveled against him.

But the Obama administration may not have too much leverage to force President Putin's hand.

Let's bring in our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty. She's picking up this part of the story -- Jill.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, they really don't. And a really interesting detail, Vladimir Putin today insisting that Russian security agents are not working with Mr. Snowden, again, another detail that came out today as he broke his silence on this case.


DOUGHERTY (voice-over): Russian President Vladimir Putin put a stop to all the speculation about where NSA leaker Edward Snowden was. He was right there in the transit area of Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport. And Mr. Putin added Russia was surprised when Snowden arrived there Sunday.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Mr. Snowden is a free man. The faster he chooses his ultimate destination, the better for us and for him.

DOUGHERTY: But Putin said Russia cannot turn him over to the U.S. There's no legal agreement with Washington, no extradition treaty. And, thank God, he said, Snowden has committed no crimes in Russia. The White House says even without a treaty, there's a clear legal basis to send Snowden back to the U.S.

"Based on the status of his travel documents and the pending charges against him, we're asking the Russian government to take action to expel Mr. Snowden without delay."

Secretary of State John Kerry insists the U.S. just wants Russia to follow normal procedure and do what the U.S. has done for Russia.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Just as we transferred to Russia seven people in the last two years that they requested that we did without any clamor, without any rancor, without any argument, and according to our sense of the appropriateness of meeting their requests. And that's what we would hope they would reciprocate with here today.

DOUGHERTY: Those seven, according to an official from the Department of Homeland Security, were high-level criminals. From 2007 to 2012, the U.S., at Moscow's request, deported more than 1,700 Russian citizens back to Russia, more than 500 of them criminal deportations.


DOUGHERTY: And, Wolf, the irony here is there's no extradition treaty because back in the old Cold War days, the United States didn't need -- did not want one, fearing that they'd have to turn over dissidents to Moscow.

Now, President Putin says he doesn't want this case to hurt U.S./Russian relations. The White House agrees, but his claim that his hands are tied legally isn't going over well here in Washington.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty at the State Department for us, thanks very much.

The anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks is helping Edward Snowden right now try to dodge U.S. authorities and find a safe haven somewhere in the world.

Kristinn Hrafnsson is joining us now. He's a spokesman for WikiLeaks. He is joining us from New York.

Mr. Hrafnsson, thanks very much. We spoke 24 hours ago exactly here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You said we'd know fairly soon the whereabouts of Snowden. Were you surprised that Russian President Vladimir Putin announced precisely where he is?

KRISTINN HRAFNSSON, SPOKESMAN, WIKILEAKS: Well, I mean that was -- not very surprised. But I will not go into details about that issue nor the plans that he has in the future. I said yesterday that this would clear up, I would guess, in the near future. And that still holds, without narrowing it down more.

BLITZER: What do you expect? Do you expect that he's going to stay in that transit area at the Moscow airport for some time? I assume you're working on trying to get him out of there, whether to Ecuador or Iceland or someplace.

HRAFNSSON: Well, all I can say that he's in a safe place and is comfortable and possibly simply relaxing after very stressful weeks behind him. BLITZER: Because we can only assume in that transit area at the airport, there is a hotel of sorts and he's in one of those rooms. Can you confirm that?

HRAFNSSON: I do not want to confirm his exact location, as I said yesterday. That still holds today.

BLITZER: One of your colleagues from WikiLeaks is still with him, is that right?

HRAFNSSON: That's correct.

BLITZER: And have you personally spoken to Snowden or your colleague who is there? Can you give us a little sense of what they're doing, how he's feeling, his mood, if you will?

HRAFNSSON: No, I have not spoken with him directly myself.

But my team has been in contact with him through the intermediaries, as well as my colleague who is there. And in terms of his mood, I cannot speculate about that.

BLITZER: How much coordination, if any, has WikiLeaks done together with authorities in Moscow to make sure that he's OK, if you will, Edward Snowden?

HRAFNSSON: As has been reported, there was no cooperation or coordination with the Russian authority prior to him coming to Moscow. And that has been the case.

BLITZER: And when he leaves, now that his U.S. passport has been revoked, he would have to leave under sort of legal transit document, if you will. Does he have something along those lines? In other words, has the government of Ecuador, for example, given him those transit papers he would need in order to leave Russia legally?

HRAFNSSON: I cannot go into details on what kind of documents that he may or may not have assisting him in going from one place to another. I simply want to reiterate that, of course, he left Hong Kong legally and for Moscow and will continue his journey at a later time.

BLITZER: How worried are you, if you are at all, that the Russian government under enormous pressure from the U.S. might decide to hand him over to the U.S. authorities?

HRAFNSSON: Well, I am fairly confident that they would never consider that, and especially not after the outrageous demands and threats that were sent out universally yesterday by the State Department.

Although the State Department has somewhat toned down its rhetoric today, it did not surprise me that Putin would act in anger to these kinds of demands under threats and call sort of some suggestions that there was some cooperation between Russia and Snowden ravings and rubbish, if I remember correctly.

BLITZER: And when you talk about threats, I want you to be precise. What do you mean by State Department threats?

HRAFNSSON: Well, there was a latent threat that was sent out, if you could go back to the statements that were made by officials here that nations were urged not to assist Snowden in any manner. And it was fairly obvious that you could read into that that there was a latent threat underneath that that would hurt relations. Everybody knows what that means.

BLITZER: Hurt relations, let's say, between the U.S. and Russia or the U.S. and China. But you're not talking about any threat directly, for example, to the physical safety, security of Snowden, right?

HRAFNSSON: I was not speculating about that.

But your correspondent was previously talking about bargaining chips and negotiation. And that is in terms of trade and cooperation. That's the usual kind of threats that are made in the international venue.

BLITZER: Well, the U.S. has made it clear, the Obama administration has made it clear if the Russians let Snowden leave and go to another country for safe harbor, that would have an effect on U.S./Russian relations.


But now you are asking me to speculate about geopolitical matters and how it will affect relations between the nations, this saga. And we are totally overlooking the most important aspect of it, which is, of course, the revelations that Snowden has offered us, which we should be focusing on.

BLITZER: Well, we're going to focus a little bit more on that. I want you to stand by, if you don't mind. We have much more to talk about.

Kristinn Hrafnsson of WikiLeaks is going to continue to stay with us.

Up next, we're also going to be speaking about concerns that Snowden has what has been described as a devastating backup plan, what some people are calling -- quote -- "doomsday insurance" if he's taken into U.S. custody.

And, later, we're searching for Snowden over at the hotel at the Moscow airport. Our John Defterios is there. There is a possible hideout inside the Moscow airport. There is this little hotel there. We're inside.


BLITZER: U.S. intelligence officials are working on the assumption that the NSA leaker gave China all the documents and information he had with him in Hong Kong. That's the assumption of the U.S. intelligence community.

The question now, are there more secrets for Edward Snowden to reveal? Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has the latest damage assessment.


EDWARD SNOWDEN, LEAKED DETAILS OF U.S. SURVEILLANCE: The public is owed an explanation.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What if Edward Snowden, the self-confessed leaker and computer expert, has one last cyber trick up his sleeve? U.S. intelligence officials worry Snowden may have some type of cyber doomsday insurance, threatening to publicize an online link to all the classified material he took so that anyone could access it if he's taken into custody.

SNOWDEN: I had access to the full rosters of everyone working at the NSA, the entire intelligence community, and undercover assets all around the world, the locations of every station.

STARR: Glenn Greenwald, a journalist Snowden worked with, told The Daily Beast Snowden has arranged for password access to his encrypted file if -- quote -- "anything at all happens to him."

The U.S. assumption is that China has already read everything Snowden brought with him to Hong Kong, but still to be determined, the precise damage Snowden has done by revealing eavesdropping and surveillance programs and what additional classified information he could leak.

GEN. RAYMOND ODIERNO, U.S. ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF: There's always concern that when information like this is leaked, what's the impact it has?

STARR: Intelligence officials are trying to figure out how many laptops Snowden traveled with and the size of the hard drives. That may help them calculate how much material he still has or whether he has handed it off to supporters.

A U.S. intelligence official tells CNN -- quote -- "We are seeing indications that several terrorist groups are in fact attempting to change their communications behaviors since news accounts of Snowden's leaks."

KERRY: It's possible the United States will be attacked because terrorists may now know how to protect themselves.

STARR: But former Air Force intelligence officer Cedric Leighton says some of the so-called damage is the red face the U.S. has been left with.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE: Looking at what he's released so far, I would give it a 60 percent embarrassment ratio to a 40 percent security risk ratio.


STARR: Now, the reality is al Qaeda has used encrypted communications for years, some of their operatives even long ago giving up their cell phones. But now U.S. officials say other terrorist groups are reacting to these disclosures by Snowden and very quickly also changing their communications methods -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara, thanks very much, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Let's bring back Kristinn Hrafnsson. He's the spokesman for WikiLeaks.

Do you know if that's true, that he has what is being called this doomsday insurance, that if he's taken into U.S. custody, all those other thousands of documents would automatically be released on the Internet?

HRAFNSSON: I have to object to this wording of a doomsday scenario. This is simply information that should be out in the public.

Part of it is already out there and it's already extremely important to have knowledge of that. There is more to come, as has been indicated by the journalists directly working with him before, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras.

And the reference that the worst-case scenario is that the Chinese authority will get ahold of information there is quite surreal in my mind. What would be -- how should that damage the U.S. if the Chinese knows that the authorities here in the U.S. are spying on their own citizens?

BLITZER: Well, from the U.S. perspective, from the intelligence community's perspective, they are the ones calling it this doomsday insurance.

But forget about what they're calling it. Does he have a plan as far as you know, Mr. Hrafnsson, that if in fact he's taken into U.S. custody, everything automatically is released?

HRAFNSSON: Well, I mean, he has obviously made very careful plans.

But I don't have detailed information about those plans. And even if I would, I would not disclose them.

BLITZER: Do you agree with the U.S. intelligence community's assumption -- and it's an assumption -- they don't know for sure. But they're working under the assumption that the Chinese managed to get access to all those hard drives, the thumb drives, or whatever information he had during those days he spent in Hong Kong. Do you believe they did?

HRAFNSSON: I think it is absurd. I think it's propaganda. And this is, what, information about Internet communication of American citizens between themselves? This is propaganda, I believe, totally.

BLITZER: How difficult would it have been for China to get access to that information? I don't know if you're a computer expert, but I'm told it wouldn't be necessarily all that complicated.

HRAFNSSON: Well, I'm a simple journalist. I'm not a computer expert, per se.

But Mr. Snowden is an expert in computer technology. And I am fairly certain that with the top-notch encryption technology, all this data would have been safe.

And with reference to the fact that this information already out has somehow changed the way terrorists or criminals are communicating, I think it's an absurd allegation. I mean, everybody in the community of journalists know that terrorist or even small-time criminals do not communicate through Gmail or Skype or even use telephones. So I think it's absurd that this has somehow endangered anything or changed anything with regard to those criminal elements.

BLITZER: Well, the U.S. does say that in recent years they have thwarted some intelligence -- some terrorist plots precisely because they were able to intercept some sort of communications and they prevented those plots from going forward.

But we will continue this conversation down the road. It's kind of you to join us. Kristinn Hrafnsson, we will stay in close touch with you in the coming days, I'm sure. Thank you very much.

HRAFNSSON: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Up next, an update from the Moscow airport. Could Edward Snowden be hiding in a little hotel in that transit area? And could Russian interrogations be with him?

Stand by for more of our special report, "NSA Leaker on the Run."


BLITZER: Happening now: CNN is at the Moscow airport right now, where the NSA leaker is said to be hiding. Did he spend the night at an airport hotel in that transit area? We're asking questions.

The Russians say Edward Snowden is a free man, but are they also secretly pumping him for information? And one of the leads on the leaker that came up empty. Stand by for a firsthand account of a rather bizarre flight to Cuba that Snowden never got on.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. This is a SITUATION ROOM special report, "NSA Leaker on the Run."

There are only so many places inside the Moscow airport that the NSA leaker can hide. As we have told you, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, confirmed today that Edward Snowden is somewhere in that transit area of the airport between the arrival gates and the passport control checkpoints. But his exact location right now remains a mystery.

Let's go back to CNN's John Defterios. He's over at the Moscow airport.

John, you went inside the only place where Snowden may be sleeping. There's a little hotel there. What did you see? DEFTERIOS: Well, in fact, Wolf, if you wanted to be a normal transit passenger, you would have basically two choices. You could either camp out on the floor like some of those behind my shoulder are doing so right now.

Or there's a single transit hotel that is available here. Let's take a look at some of the pictures. It's called a capsule. It's not very space age-like, as name would suggest. In fact, it only has 40 rooms, and they're pretty modest in size.

Let's see if (AUDIO GAP) can draw a comparison. It's about the scale of a large walk-in closet in the United States with a shower, a couple of beds if you have a double, a single if you don't, and just basically a square room. Now, we went to the desk and we spoke to management and said, have you ever seen (AUDIO GAP) categorically he has not checked into this hotel (AUDIO GAP) Wolf (AUDIO GAP) because they have this huge (AUDIO GAP)

BLITZER: Hey, John, we're really having some trouble with the audio.

John, hold on for a minute. We're going to try to reconnect with you. We will get back to you.

But, in the meantime, I want to move on. John Defterios is over at that airport in Moscow right now.

Edward Snowden landed in Moscow with a treasure-trove of America's top secrets. And you have to wonder if the Russians are trying to get their hands on that information right now.

CNN's Brian Todd is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And you have been looking into this extremely sensitive part of the story, Brian.


Vladimir Putin denies it, but former spies we spoke to have no doubt the Russians are trying to get their hands on that intelligence. The Chinese may have already had their turn. So, we asked intelligence veterans how the Russians would try to extract the information they need.


TODD (voice-over): Vladimir Putin says Russian security officials have not been -- quote -- "working with Edward Snowden." But those who know the spy game say the temptation may be too strong, the potential intelligence windfall too great.

BOB BAER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The Russians are aggressive and there's no doubt in my that mind they would not let this opportunity pass ever.

TODD: Former CIA operative Robert Baer and other intelligence veterans familiar with the Russians have different takes on how they might approach Snowden. Baer says they would be blunt, maybe even threaten subtly to imprison him if he doesn't give valuable information.

That's not how Oleg Kalugin sees it. Kalugin is a former KGB officer. He supervised a ring of notorious British Cold War operatives who spied for the Soviets.

(on camera): How would they approach him? What would be their style? Would they flatter him?

OLEG KALUGIN, FORMER KGB OFFICER: Yes, they would probably say something nice about how nice that Americans understand the value of improving relations and better knowledge of each other.

TODD (voice-over): But also with a keen eye on his potential weaknesses and needs, Kalugin says, possibly offering money or perks. He says they'd start out using a proven interrogation technique.

KALUGIN: Asking questions they know answers to, to make sure that he knows what he's talking about, that he's not kind of self-invented source of information.

TODD: Kalugin and other experts say the Russians would want information on NSA operations or about spies America might have been trying to recruit. Then there's the technical side.

(on camera): A key question, if Edward Snowden has a laptop with him, what will the Russians want from it? And how long will it take them to get it?

I'm joined by Mark Stout, a former U.S. intelligence officer who spent 13 years in the intelligence community analyzing Russia and Russian intelligence. He's now with the International Spy Museum.

Mark, how long would it take them to download everything from his laptop?

MARK STOUT, FORMER CIA RUSSIA ANALYST: It'd just be a matter of minutes for them to be able to strip all the data off the hard drive of Snowden's computer if they're able to get to it. And that doesn't actually require Snowden's cooperation. Now, the files on that may be encrypted. But once they have copied that data, they can decrypt it at their leisure for however long it happens to take.

TODD (voice-over): Stout says Snowden may be able to tell the Russians whether the Americans have been able to penetrate Russian computer security systems, maybe with a secret back door or a Trojan horse.


TODD: But Stout says Snowden can also give them simple information. Just telling the Russians that the Americans have extracted data from certain systems, even if he doesn't know how it was done, Stout says. The Russians, just like the Chinese and the Iranians, can reverse engineer it, Wolf. And the spy game goes on.

BLITZER: Could he -- could he resist that kind of questioning, if you will?

TODD: Bob Baer does not believe he could. Baer thinks Edward Snowden is naive. He's in over his head and is desperate to find safe haven and not to be turned over to the Americans, even though the Russians say they're not going to do that. Baer says if the Russians promise to find him -- help him find a place to live, maybe offer him some money, that he'll start listening and that he will not resist then.

BLITZER: Amazing stuff. Brian, thanks very much for that report.

Let's dig a little bit deeper now with our national security analyst, Fran Townsend, the former Bush homeland security advisor. She's a member of the CIA external advisory board. Also joining us the former CIA analyst Philip Mudd, a senior research fellow at the New American -- New America Foundation.

Mr. Mudd, do you just assume that the Chinese, for example, have copied, have had access to everything on those laptops, those thumb drives that he had during his few days in Hong Kong?

PHILIP MUDD, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Absolutely. I don't know how you assume anything else. Let's reverse this. Let's say I'm sitting in a staff meeting in the intelligence community in the United States and someone walks in and says, "Well, to be polite, we're not going to mirror his hard drive." And let's say we had a Chinese intelligence officer. My answer would be, "Are you kidding me?"

The first thing you're going to do, by default, is say, "I want to talk to the guy, and I'm simply going to download everything he's got." I think you've not only got to assume that, I believe it's an almost factual statement.

BLITZER: Fran, do you agree?

FRAN TOWNSEND, NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. Absolutely. I think it's true both in China and in Russia. And by the way, he doesn't have to cooperate. They can -- they can do this without his even knowing it.

BLITZER: When you say that, because I've been told -- I've been to China. I went to North Korea. And security experts said to me, "Don't take your laptop. Don't take -- don't take anything, because within a few minutes if the Chinese want it or if the North Koreans, even for that matter, want it, they can get it pretty quickly with or without your knowledge."

Do you buy that, Fran?

TOWNSEND: Absolutely, Wolf. The only thing he might have done was to keep it on a thumb drive, which will make it a little bit more difficult for them to get access to it.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Philip.

MUDD: I agree with Fran. I mean, any time -- forget about U.S. government. If you're a businessman with intellectual property or business secrets, my advice for you is take the battery out of your phone. In fact, leave your phone overseas. Don't bring a laptop. Because if it's got bits and bytes, it's going to get ripped off.

BLITZER: So what do you do now, assuming, Fran, that the Russians and the Chinese, for that matter, have now gone through or are in the process of trying to go through everything that Snowden stole while he was a contractor for the NSA? What do you do now?

TOWNSEND: Well, he had -- he would have had access to a lot more information, Wolf, than he was able to actually steal, to take with him. And even remember. I mean, one of the things is, to the extent that he was aware of sites or individuals, that sort of thing, unless he downloaded documents that he could remember all that, he may not -- he may not be able to compromise as much as he had access to. That's the good news.

The bad news is to the extent that you can identify those documents he took, you're going to change key encryption and access to all of those programs and try as best you can to protect those assets so that others can't access them if he's betrayed the United States.

BLITZER: Phil, there's a Bloomberg News report out there suggesting that U.S. officials are exploring the possibility that China may have actually coordinated what Philip -- what Edward Snowden did and that he wittingly or unwittingly was used to that effect. What do you think about that theory?

MUDD: It makes a lot of sense. I mean, look, you're flying into Hong Kong, and you want to tell me that people there who are in the spotlight of global media and diplomacy don't have a sense of their plan to both get access to this guy's material and get him out of the country? That, to me, doesn't make sense. You're going to look at this situation and say not only "How do I maximize advantage?" but "How do I get out of here without -- with the least possible damage?" What's the alternative?

BLITZER: Fran, I'm just curious, because it's been going through my head what you think. Would it make any difference if the U.S. were to say to the Russians right now, "You know what? We want Snowden. We'll do an exchange. We'll give you Aldrich Ames, convicted of espionage for the former Soviet Union or Robert Hanssen, convicted of espionage for the Soviet Union, both serving life sentences in U.S. prisons." Would it make any difference? Do you think the Russians would be interested in getting either or both in exchange for Snowden?

TOWNSEND: Oh, Wolf, I think the Russians would be absolutely delighted to make that sort of a trade. I think -- I think it's a bad trade for the United States. I mean, these are guys who absolutely we know and can establish have got blood on their hands. Yes, I think the Russians would be interested in that deal, Wolf. I don't think the U.S. ought to consider it.

BLITZER: Philip, what do you think?

MUDD: I would fall on my sword against that one if I were at CIA or at the FBI. Look, these guys destroyed the lives of American families for decades. We have someone in Russia who probably has already given away the farm. I'm not sure what we're trying to protect. So we have both information that's already given away from an individual who does not compare to someone like Aldrich Ames, who led to the murder of Americans.

BLITZER: Philip Mudd and Fran Townsend. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

TOWNSEND: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Also coming up, asylum irony. We're going live to Quito in Ecuador. And did Snowden seek out his job as a government contractor with the actual intent of this massive leak? We're going to ask a "New York Times" reporter who's in Hong Kong and has written some amazing stories over the past few days.


BLITZER: Ecuador could be Snowden's final destination. He's already applied for asylum there. But Ecuador is an ironic choice. CNN's Paula Newton shows us why.


PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The paradox of this place is hard to miss. Ecuador, a small striving South American country, is going out of its way to antagonize its largest trading partner, the United States, by considering granting asylum to, of all people, Edward Snowden. It's especially tough to take for one Carlos Calderon.

(on camera): You were a whistle blower like Edward Snowden, and you faced consequences for it.

CARLOS CALDERON, WHISTLEBLOWER (through translator): Political fear has been established. And now many journalists think twice or don't publish at all to avoid what happened to us.

NEWTON (voice-over): Calderon was at the heart of Ecuador's so-called "Big Brother" case. His investigative weekly, "Vanguardia," blew the whistle on tens of millions of dollars in government contracts awarded to the brother of President Rafael Correa. The president maintains he knew nothing about the contracts, and he sued Calderon. Not for defamation, but moral damages. He won.

Calderon was ordered to pay a million dollars in damages. President Correa withdrew his complaint before the case went to appeal.

But now new so-called gag laws expected to be approved would further restrict press freedoms and would make it a criminal offense to disclose and publish classified information and government secrets.

CALDERON (through translator): Mr. Snowden couldn't do what he did here in Ecuador. Whoever does it will go to jail. Mr. Snowden, therefore, will be in jail in Ecuador. NEWTON: Still Calderon and many others in this country could see why their president would welcome Snowden with open arms. The U.S. has chastised Ecuador about press freedom and human rights in the past. So replying with a right to rebuke of its own could amount to a political master stroke in South America.


NEWTON: It's unfortunate to say, Wolf, but here in South America, even here in Ecuador, standing up to the White House, standing up to the United States really does go over well.

Having said that, the ambivalence you'll hear here from people, Wolf, is more of, "OK, that's fine. But what is it going to do for Ecuador?" Especially when they hear that it could affect the trading relationship between Ecuador and the United States -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Paula Newton in Quito, Ecuador for us. Paula, thanks very much.

The Snowden case is certainly straining U.S. relations with Ecuador right now. Also is straining relations with China, which allowed him to leave, and with Russia, where he remains in limbo.


BLITZER: And Christiane Amanpour is joining us now from New York.

Christiane, this latest twist, Putin saying that he -- that Snowden is in that transit zone at the Moscow airport, where does this put the U.S./Russian relationship right now?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR/CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, because we've pretty much known that for the last 24 hours. But the fact that the Russian president is fully confirming it puts the U.S.-Russia relationship in a bit of a bind. Because even though there's no formal extradition treaty between the U.S. and Russia.

And of course, American officials are trying to convince the Russians that, actually, this person they have just charged him with a felony. He doesn't have a passport. Surely, that must account for some irregularity under some Russian law. In other words, they're trying to persuade Russia to figure out what kind of law that he may have broken they can then use to deport him. They want him back on a plane to the U.S.

Today, Putin said that not only is he there, he has entered Russian, and he has not committed a crime on Russian soil. Therefore, we have no reason to deport him or arrest him or do anything.

And then he said that he would want to leave all of this to FBI Director Mueller and the Russian equivalent to talk or hash it out between themselves. And he added that he hoped that this would not damage what he called cordial, some others have said businesslike relationships between the U.S. and Russia, particularly in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing. So he's trying to sort of say, "On the one hand, you know, hope this doesn't affect our relations. But on the other hand, right now I've got no reason to send him back to you."

BLITZER: Is there anything the U.S. can do, president of the United States specifically, to sweeten the pot to maybe make it attractive for the Russians to cooperate with the U.S. and hand over Snowden?

AMANPOUR: Well, I'm sure there must be. There must be sort of, you know, tit for tat kind of people that the Russians may want or did want or whatever.

But on a bigger scale, I think that the U.S. -- and this is in the words of former Representative Jane Harman. She thinks the administration doesn't have enough leverage with Russia right now. And as you know, there is very, very bad blood really between the Putin administration and the Obama administration. A lot of it centers on the big differences over Syria which have simply been magnified. And there's been such a horrible war of words between the last two countries over the last two years on this and on other issues.

And Russia -- Putin is notoriously being very difficult, according to U.S. officials on any of these bilateral things that they want to talk about.

There was an attempt to try to see eye to eye during the G-8 summit in Northern Ireland. But you saw the picture of both Putin and Obama sitting there looking really very uncomfortable together and actually saying that they had their differences. They can't see eye to eye on -- in this case, it was on Syria.

So where is the leverage? I don't know, but surely the U.S. is doing all it can to persuade Russia that it would be in its best interest to put Edward Snowden on a plane back to the United States.

BLITZER: That body language between President Obama and President Putin was very, very telling. Obviously neither guy seems to like the other one very much.

All right. We'll see where this goes. Christiane, thanks very much.

AMANPOUR: Thank you.


BLITZER: Inside China's decision to let Snowden leave Hong Kong. Up next we have new details of the closed-door high-level deliberations.

And a 30-hour airborne odyssey in search of the NSA leaker.


BLITZER: New details of the Edward Snowden drama are emerging from Hong Kong. That was the first stop on his global odyssey. Keith Bradsher is "The New York Times" Hong Kong bureau chief. He's joining us now.

Keith, as you know the "South China Morning Post" newspaper reported that Snowden actually took the job as an NSA contractor with Booz Allen Hamilton in order specifically to gather additional evidence information about the NSA that he could make public.

What can you tell us about that? Because you've written some amazing pieces the last few days.

KEITH BRADSHER, HONG KONG BUREAU CHIEF, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": That had seemed to be the case already from the schedule. That is, he established contact with Glenn Greenwald in late January, early February. And he only went to work for Booz Allen Hamilton a month later. So I think the timeline has been presented throughout that he was -- he joined a month after he'd already begun contacting activists, including Laura Poitras, as well, the videographer, to say that he wanted to release government secrets.

BLITZER: Tell us about this Mr. Ho, this lawyer who apparently spent some quality time with Snowden in Hong Kong, and the role he played in getting him on that flight to Moscow?

BRADSHER: Albert Ho is one of this city's most prominent politicians and lawyers.

He was not active at the start. One of the associates in his law firm was initially representing Mr. Snowden, as was a local barrister. Albert Ho got involved, actually, a week ago today when we had a dinner of pizza, fried chicken, sausages, washed down with a lot of Pepsi, with Mr. Snowden. And he says in fact, Snowden really likes Pepsi.

What happened at that dinner according to Albert Ho, is they had a long discussion about what were really the prospects for Snowden if he stayed in Hong Kong and fought it out on the asylum grounds.

According to Albert Ho, Snowden had an unrealistic or overly optimistic assessment of whether or not he would be able to stay out on bail while that kind of a legal battle was going on. Most, in fact, almost all of the several thousand people seeking asylum in Hong Kong at any given time are allowed to stay out on bail. They remain in the community. Many of them find jobs.

But what Albert Ho warned Snowden was that, while he had a better than even chance of getting bail he was by no means assured, because this was such a high-profile case. And Snowden could easily spend years in prison with no access to a computer while the United States and Hong Kong and Beijing wrangled over his fate. That was very troubling to Mr. Snowden, according to Albert Ho, and began the -- began leading him down the path towards deciding that he did not want to remain in Hong Kong.

BLITZER: Tell us about this person you describe as a, quote, chair, someone that Snowden apparently met on an earlier visit to Hong Kong, with whom he then spent quality time just before getting on that flight from Hong Kong to Moscow. What do we know about this individual?

BRADSHER: Albert Ho did not provide a lot of details except to say that, when Edward Snowden first arrived in Hong Kong, he looked up somebody whom he had met previously when he'd gone on a vacation here. That individual introduced him to his lawyers. That individual also helped him find, according to Albert Ho, a place to stay, with one of that individual's friends, a place somewhere out in the new territories, which is an outlying area of Hong Kong. And he had a tiny room there in the other person's house.

So somebody here who is active in the community, according to Albert Ho, tried to help Edward Snowden during his three weeks in Hong Kong.

BLITZER: I asked the question because Bloomberg News is reporting that U.S. authorities, U.S. intelligence is -- they're working under an assumption that perhaps, perhaps the Chinese wittingly or unwittingly, as far as Snowden is concerned, orchestrated what Snowden did. Do you have any reason to believe that?

BRADSHER: That is one of the questions that I think everybody is trying to figure out. Albert Ho and in fact, Snowden's legal team and Snowden himself have strongly denied that he was in any way acting on behalf of the Chinese government. There have been accusations that he was. And I think everybody's trying to figure that out.

But Snowden and his lawyers have strongly denied that. And nobody has come forward with a specific -- with specific evidence yet that I've seen to verify that he was anything other than what he says on that point.

BLITZER: Keith, keep up the terrific reporting from Hong Kong. Keith Bradsher of "The New York Times." Thanks very much for joining us.

Much more coming up here. An empty seat and a wild goose chase. We'll have details.


BLITZER: CNN's Phil Black reports on that flight from Moscow to Cuba.


PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There was a very strong belief among dozens of Russian and international journalists that Snowden was going to take that flight to Havana. Some say their sources confirmed it, and it kind of made sense.

On board, the search for Snowden began immediately. Was he already there? Would he board last? Would he be separated from everyone else in some secure part of the aircraft? Some journalists were tweeting they'd seen a VIP car alongside the plane.

But we realized pretty quickly he wasn't on board yet. And so we waited until the clock counted down to the scheduled takeoff time. Then, the door closed. And we started moving. Even as we were taxiing, I stayed on the phone with our headquarters in Atlanta, ready to pass on any news before we took off. We thought it was still possible Snowden would board the plane somewhere on the tarmac. He didn't. And we took off without him.

(on camera): So we committed to a 12-hour-plus flight that was essentially a waste of time. Very frustrating.

(voice-over): According to some reporting, he and his WikiLeaks companion were supposed to be sitting in Row 17. Those seats were empty. And they became a bit of a focal point for disgruntled journalists who, like us, had gambled and lost.

And so Cuba, it's my first time. I didn't have a visa. So I had to stay in transit. It wasn't the authentic Cuban travel experience I'd long dreamed of. We tried some random Snowden hunting.

(on camera): Have you seen Edward Snowden?



Hello, Cuba. Good-bye, Cuba. Been on the ground here in Havana for about an hour and spent most of that time trying to negotiate our way back onto a very quick return flight back to Moscow. But we think we've done it.


BLITZER: That's it for me this hour. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.