News / USA

    NSA Leaker Snowden Leaves Hong Kong

    People cross a street in front of a monitor showing file footage of Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), with a news tag (L) saying he has left Hong Kong, outside a shopping mall in Hong Kong, June 23, 2013.
    People cross a street in front of a monitor showing file footage of Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), with a news tag (L) saying he has left Hong Kong, outside a shopping mall in Hong Kong, June 23, 2013.
    VOA News
    The South China Morning Post is reporting that U.S. whistle-blower Edward Snowden has left Hong Kong on a flight to Moscow, heading to a third destination.

    The paper said the Aeroflot flight carrying the former National Security Agency contractor left Hong Kong Sunday morning and is scheduled to arrive in Moscow after 5 p.m. (1400 UTC).  

    Various media reports have said that Snowden could take refuge in either Iceland or Ecuador.  A spokesman for Iceland's Interior Ministry told VOA Friday that Snowden has not formally applied for asylum, and that such requests would need to come from someone who is already in that country.

    On Saturday, White House officials said Washington had asked Hong Kong to extradite Snowden, who is facing espionage charges for exposing secret U.S. surveillance programs.

    National Security Adviser Tom Donilon cited an extradition treaty and historically good diplomatic ties with the semi-autonomous Chinese city and said, "We expect them [Hong Kong authorities] to comply with the treaty in this case."  But the Hong Kong government said Sunday that the extradition request did not fully comply with legal requirements.

    Earlier Saturday, a senior administration official warned that any failure on the part of Hong Kong to act on the U.S. request will "complicate our bilateral relations."

    The White House pressure came less than 24 hours after U.S. prosecutors unsealed a criminal complaint Friday charging Snowden with espionage and the theft of government property.

    The secret NSA documents leaked to reporters earlier this month show the agency and other U.S. intelligence units have gathered data for years about patterns of telephone and Internet use at home and abroad.

    Snowden says his actions were based on a belief that it is important to reveal massive surveillance of private citizens.

    Senior U.S. officials say the surveillance does not monitor phone conversations, but looks for patterns in the metadata, including information on the time, date and numbers called.

    Authorities say those measures have prevented at least 50 terrorist plots worldwide since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.  They also say Snowden's actions have weakened their ability to foil future plots.

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