HANOI: Ecuador’s foreign minister on Monday said protection for fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden was an issue of “freedom of expression” as his government analyses a request for asylum by the whistleblower.
Snowden, a former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, is in Russia after arriving Sunday from Hong Kong, hoping to win asylum in Ecuador and evade arrest after leaking sensational details of secret US surveillance programmes of Internet and phone data.
He has infuriated and embarrassed Washington with a series of leaks that have strained diplomatic ties between the US and countries that have failed to extradite him despite a warrant by American authorities.
“We will make a decision… we are analysing it,” Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told reporters through a translator in Hanoi of the asylum request by Snowden.
“It (the request) has to do with freedom of expression and the security of citizens around the world,” he added.
“We always act by principle not in our own interest. There are some governments who act more on their own interests, we do not.”
The 30-year-old IT contractor was expected to head to Ecuador via Cuba and AFP correspondents at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport saw an Ecuadoran flagged diplomatic car at VIP arrivals.
“We know he is in Moscow, we’re in talks with higher authorities,” Patino, who is on an official visit to communist Vietnam, said.
The South American country, led by outspoken leftist President Rafael Correa, has been sheltering WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is wanted by Sweden, at its London embassy for the past year.
US authorities have been left red-faced by Snowden’s revelations of intelligence trawling by the NSA of phone call logs and Internet data, prompting concern from governments around the world and outrage from privacy campaigners.
Snowden made the revelations from Hong Kong which allowed him to travel to Moscow, a decision described as “troubling” by US authorities who have laid charges including of theft and espionage against the whistleblower, revoked his passport and sought his extradition.
Russian officials said Snowden could still potentially make it to Ecuador without a valid US passport.
“If he has asked for asylum in Ecuador then they could give him a refugee document or even Ecuadoran citizenship allowing him to continue his journey,” a security source told Interfax.
Snowden’s dramatic evasion of US authorities has stirred tensions between Washington and Moscow and Beijing — which retains ultimate control over Hong Kong.
The whistleblower has been the centre of global attention since his revelations, sparking intense debate across the world over the relationship between citizens’ privacy and government access to information for security purposes.
The NSA has repeatedly said the goal of the surveillance programmes revealed by Snowden was to prevent terrorist attacks and that they had so far foiled some 50 plots around the world.