Snowden: Work with us, asks US

2013-06-23 22:20
Edward Snowden (File, AFP)

Edward Snowden (File, AFP)

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Washington - The United States was tracking Edward Snowden on Sunday as the former NSA computer technician facing US espionage charges arrived in Moscow en route for an undisclosed destination.

Snowden, who leaked secret details of vast US phone and Internet surveillance programmes, left Hong Kong despite a US extradition request and the US authorities will "pursue relevant law enforcement cooperation with other countries where" he may travel, said the US Justice Department.

"The chase is on," said California Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "And we'll have to see what happens."

According to WikiLeaks, unidentified diplomats are escorting Snowden, 30, a former employee of National Security Agency contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, in his bid to secure political asylum in a country yet to be disclosed.

"Mr Edward Snowden, the American whistleblower who exposed evidence of a global surveillance regime conducted by US and UK intelligence agencies, has left Hong Kong legally," WikiLeaks said in a statement.

"He is bound for a democratic nation via a safe route for the purposes of asylum, and is being escorted by diplomats and legal advisors from WikiLeaks."

US authorities filed espionage charges against Snowden last week and asked Hong Kong, where he first fled, to detain him on a provisional arrest warrant.

But Snowden boarded an Aeroflot flight for Moscow on Sunday amid Russian media reports that he would fly to Cuba and eventually Venezuela.

Snowden left his home in Hawaii on 20 May and flew to Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous Chinese territory, from where he proceeded to leak details of the secret US intelligence programmes to international media outlets.

The leaks have embarrassed President Barack Obama's administration, which was forced to defend US intelligence agencies' practice of gathering huge amounts of telephone and internet data from private users around the world.

New York Senator Chuck Schumer expressed disappointment on Sunday with Hong Kong for allowing Snowden to leave and with Russia for letting him go there.

Schumer said it was "very disappointing what Hong Kong has done" and it "remains to be seen how much influence Beijing had on Hong Kong".

"I have a feeling the hand of Beijing was involved here," he told CNN.

"What's infuriating here is Prime Minister [Vladimir] Putin of Russia aiding and abetting Snowden's escape," Schumer added. "Putin always seems almost eager to put a finger in the eye of the United States, whether it is Syria, Iran and now, of course, with Snowden.

"That's now how allies should treat one another, and I think it'll have serious consequences for the United States-Russia relationship," he said.

Schumer said he expected the US authorities would ask Russia to hold Snowden. "Whether Russia does that or not, I don't know," he said.

NSA chief Keith Alexander said meanwhile that Snowden's blowing the lid on US surveillance has forced a tightening of security on IT system operators like him.

The NSA is overhauling its operations to keep a closer watch on contractors like Snowden, who had top security clearance and "stole some of our secrets", General Alexander told ABC television.

Alexander described Snowden as a computer system administrator with top secret security clearance who betrayed his nation by taking a trove of information from the NSA and fleeing.

No red flags went up to detect that theft, Alexander said, and the NSA is working to overhaul things to prevent a repeat.

"Clearly, the system did not work as it should have," he said.

"We are now putting in place actions that would give us the ability to track our system administrators, what they are doing, what they are taking," he said.

Also, "we've changed the passwords", Alexander said. "But at the end of the day we have to trust that our people are going to do the right thing."

The NSA chief also repeated assertions that the ultimate goal of the surveillance programs is to prevent terrorist attacks and that some 50 plots around the world had been foiled so far thanks to the programs.

Read more on:    nsa  |  edward snowden  |  julian assange  |  us  |  privacy

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