Snowden getting the traitor treatment by U.S. friends and foes

Whether he is a traitor or not, fugitive Edward Snowden is being treated like one.

None of the 21 countries to which he has appealed for asylum had gotten back to him with an unequivocally positive answer by Tuesday, when speculation about his future had become so overheated that European countries were denying air space entry to planes they feared might be carrying the 30-year-old leaker of U.S. government secrets.

Some states to which Snowden turned for help, like India, Poland and Germany, have said “no” outright. Austria, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Switzerland all require asylum bids to be made in person on national territory – a technical barrier that spares them having to make a decision. Even Ecuador and Venezuela, where officials earlier suggested Snowden should be treated as a human rights hero, have been pulling back the welcome mat as they ponder the potential costs of crossing U.S. national interests.

Snowden’s disclosures about surveillance excesses by the National Security Agency that used to employ him as a contractor have embarrassed the Obama administration and given countries like Russia, China, Venezuela and others with whom Washington has sensitive relations grounds for casting the U.S. government as a hypocritical privacy violator.

But the chance to take political potshots at the White House doesn’t equate to taking in someone who has absconded with troves of national intelligence files and sparked scandals from Hong Kong to Brussels with leaks about U.S. spying on millions of individuals’ personal phone, email and Internet records. What Snowden has done would constitute treason in most, if not all, of the countries to which he is turning, giving officials pause to consider the signal that granting asylum would send to their own peoples.

Snowden applied for asylum in Iceland and Ecuador before arriving in Moscow. In a Tuesday post on its website, WikiLeaks listed 19 more countries to which its legal advisor accompanying Snowden on his globe-trotting odyssey had dispatched asylum applications through a Russian consular officer based at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. WikiLeaks chaperone Sarah Harrison has been holed up with Snowden for 11 days in the transit area of the cavernous airport, in a diplomatic no man’s land between the arrival gates and the passport control booths.


Snowden arrived on June 23 with a U.S. passport that had been revoked by Washington, leaving him unable to officially cross the airport border into Russian territory.

The choice of Moscow as way station has been a propaganda gift for the Kremlin. Russian President Vladimir Putin has been able to portray Snowden’s disclosures of U.S. surveillance excesses as evidence of a double standard practiced by the United States. Russian officials chafe under U.S. accusations that they violate the human rights of Russian citizens with crackdowns on protests and opposition politicians. Now Putin can point to U.S. snooping against civilians at home and abroad to show that Washington doesn’t practice what it preaches.

Putin has also scored points in the diplomatic tango by posing as a defender of U.S. national security. He said Monday that Snowden would be welcome to stay in Russia, but only if he refrained from leaking more classified information “aimed at inflicting damage to our American partners.”

Putin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said Tuesday that Snowden had withdrawn his request for asylum in Russia, apparently unwilling to respect the Russian leader’s condition that he muzzle himself. That allows Putin to turn a cold shoulder to someone he probably regards as a traitor, while refusing to turn over the fugitive who many rights crusaders consider to have done the world a service by exposing the extent of U.S. surveillance.

Snowden’s best bets for finding refuge from among the remaining countries seemed to narrow to a handful of Latin American states where leftist leaders have gained power by challenging U.S. influence in the region.

Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador have yet to formally answer Snowden’s asylum appeals. But the countries’ delayed responses have whipped up so much speculation that France and Portugal on Tuesday refused to let a plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales cross into their airspace, forcing it to land in Vienna.

Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca told reporters in La Paz that Snowden wasn’t on the plane and denounced Paris and Lisbon for “this injustice.”

Morales, who had been in Moscow for a summit of gas exporters, had told Russia Today network earlier Tuesday that Snowden’s asylum petition would be given consideration.

Neither Cuba nor Nicaragua offered any immediate response to Snowden’s petitions. But both states have seen their long-strained relations with Washington warm slightly in recent years, and are considered unlikely to sacrifice that improvement just to add to the Obama administration’s embarrassment over the Snowden affair.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was also in Moscow for the gas summit and gave conflicting signals on whether Snowden would be welcome in the Bolivarian republic whose prickly relations with Washington defined the 14-year leadership of President Hugo Chavez, who died this year.

Maduro said his government hadn’t received the application yet from Snowden and sidestepped questions about how it would respond once the paperwork made its way to Caracas.

“He did not kill anyone and did not plant a bomb,” Maduro told reporters covering his meeting with Putin. He described Snowden as deserving of international protection, but he brushed off reporters’ questions about whether he would be willing to take Snowden back with him to Caracas after a Wednesday trip to neighboring Belarus.

“What I’m thinking about bringing back are a lot of agreements that we’re going to sign with Russia,” Maduro said in comments carried by Venezuelan state television. “That’s what we’re going to be taking back to Venezuela.”


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A foreign correspondent for 25 years, Carol J. Williams traveled to and reported from more than 80 countries in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.