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Sunday, June 23, 2013

WikiLeaks: Edward Snowden arrives in Moscow

A former National Security Agency contractor wanted by the United States for revealing highly classified surveillance programs has landed in Moscow after fleeing Hong Kong.

Reporter Kevin O'Flynn told host Bob Schieffer on CBS' "Face the Nation" that Edward Snowden landed at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport at around 9:15 a.m. ET. While his current whereabouts are unknown, most reports indicate he will not stay in Moscow, but will instead continue to another destination on Monday.

A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was unaware of Snowden's whereabouts or travel plans. Diplomats from at least two South American nations mentioned as possible final destinations for Snowden - Ecuador and Venezuela - were seen at the Moscow airport, although it's unclear whether they had any contact with Snowden.

Both Russia's state ITAR-Tass news agency and Reuters have cited an unnamed Aeroflot airline official as saying Snowden will continue along to Cuba on Monday, and possibly travel from their to Venezuela. Snowden said in recent interviews that Iceland was also a destination he preferred. Ecuador has been mentioned as another possible destination.

Early Sunday morning, Hong Kong officials said Snowden had been allowed to leave for a "third country" because a U.S. extradition request did not fully comply with their laws. Snowden had been in hiding in Hong Kong for several weeks since he revealed information on the highly classified spy programs.

Snowden's flight to Moscow appears to have caught U.S. officials off guard, with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., calling it "a very big surprise."

"I want to get him caught and brought back for trial, and I think we need to know exactly what he has - he could have a lot, lot more," Feinstein said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "But I think the chase is on."

CBS News White House correspondent Major Garrett, also appearing on "Face the Nation," said: "The United States doesn't know what happened. It put together what it said and thought were really good charges that represented everything we could legally prosecute Edward Snowden under, thought there was an agreement with the Hong Kong authorities...It looks like there was a technicality."

Interpol said there is no public Red Notice -- an international alert that an individual is wanted for arrest by an Interpol member country -- at the moment for Snowden.

A U.S. Department of Justice spokesperson, Nanda Chitre, told CBS News they had been informed Snowden had left Hong Kong.

"We will continue to discuss this matter with Hong Kong and pursue relevant law enforcement cooperation with other countries where Mr. Snowden may be attempting to travel," Chindre said.

WikiLeaks, the organization that has released reams of classified material online from the U.S. government and others, claims to have aided Snowden in his flight. They released a statement saying he was bound for a "democratic nation via a safe route for the purpose of asylum."

An Aeroflot agent told Russia's Interfax news service that Snowden is traveling with one other person with the surname Harrison, but the agent declined to release the traveler's full name.

U.K. journalist Sarah Harrison is a known close adviser to WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange, prompting speculation that she was with Snowden during his flight from Hong Kong. WikiLeaks tweeted out her profile Sunday morning, as well as another tweet asking followers to read about her "before the smears arrive."

The White House itself has not commented yet on Snowden's departure, which came a day after the United States made a formal request for his extradition and gave a pointed warning to Hong Kong against delaying the process of returning him to face trial in the U.S.

The Hong Kong government said in a statement that Snowden left "on his own accord for a third country through a lawful and normal channel."

It acknowledged the U.S. extradition request, but said U.S. documentation did not "fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law." It said additional information was requested from Washington, but since the Hong Kong government "has yet to have sufficient information to process the request for provisional warrant of arrest, there is no legal basis to restrict Mr. Snowden from leaving Hong Kong."

Russian officials have given no indication that they have any interest in detaining Snowden or any grounds to do so. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said that Russia would be willing to consider granting asylum if Snowden were to make such a request.

Russia and the United States have no extradition treaty that would oblige Russia to hand over a U.S. citizen at Washington's request.

WikiLeaks said it was providing legal help to Snowden at his request and that he was being escorted by diplomats and legal advisors from the group. Its founder, Julian Assange, who has spent a year inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questioning about sex crime allegations, told the Sydney Morning Herald that his organization is in a position to help because it has expertise in international asylum and extradition law.

The Cuban government had no comment on Snowden's movements or reports he might use Havana as a transit point.

Michael Ratner, Assange's lawyer, said he didn't know Snowden's final destination, but said his options were not numerous.

"You have to have a country that's going to stand up to the United States," Ratner said. "You're not talking about a huge range of countries here."

Ratner said a country's extradition treaty with the U.S. is "not going to be relevant" because the country he ends up going to will likely be one willing to give him a political exemption.

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