The United States scrambled for eight weeks last year trying to catch NSA secrets leaker Edward Snowden to no avail, before he secured temporary political asylum in Russia, The Washington Post reported Saturday
The effort began right after he had said publicly that he had leaked stolen data on the agency's vast electronic surveillance programs — and officials approached his father for help. They also unsuccessfully tried to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin that handing over Snowden would bolster U.S.-Russian relations, the Post reports.
But perhaps the most embarrassing moment during the period occurred last July when Snowden was not found in a search of the Bolivian president's airplane that U.S. officials had diverted to Vienna after it left Moscow.
"The best play for us is him landing in a third country," Lisa Monaco, the White House homeland security adviser, said in a meeting last summer. An Obama administration official at the session disclosed the comment to the Post.
"We were hoping he was going to be stupid enough to get on some kind of airplane, and then have an ally say: 'You’re in our airspace. Land,'" the official, who asked not to be named, told the Post.
That opportunity came on July 2, when Bolivian President Evo Morales left Moscow on his presidential aircraft. Morales supported Snowden, and U.S. officials did not find Snowden aboard when it was searched after being diverted to Austria, the Post reports.
A year later, Snowden appears to be even further away from U.S. grasp, the Post reports. His asylum is expected to be extended by Russia, and talks between his attorneys and the Justice Department have been stalled for months.
But not even U.S. officials are clear about Snowden’s situation in Russia, the Post reports.
"It's an ongoing investigation," Attorney General Eric Holder told the Post. "We have done the appropriate things at this stage of the investigation, and we know exactly where Mr. Snowden is."
But another U.S. official, whom the Post says is briefed regularly on the Snowden case, said: "That's not our understanding."
And Michael McFaul, the U.S. ambassador to Russia until February, said: "I do not know where Mr. Snowden is living, what his relationship to the Russian government is or how he makes a living."
McFaul has since returned to teaching at Stanford University.
The U.S. also enlisted Snowden's father, Lon, after his son appeared in a video about the leaks that was posted on The Guardian's website.
"I spoke to them approximately four hours on the 10th of June," Lon Snowden told the Post.
The FBI later offered to send the elder Snowden to Moscow to get him to return to the United States, but Lon Snowden withdrew amid efforts to paint his son as a traitor.
"I came to know that they were not functioning in good faith," Lon Snowden told the Post. He declined the trip.
Snowden's attorney, Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union, said his client gets no financial support from the Russian government.
Though he communicated with Snowden for the Post's report, Wizner would not say where his client lives or how he obtained an apartment in Moscow, where such efforts require government approval.
Snowden is living off savings from his six-figure jobs from working as an NSA contractor, Wizner told the Post, and he has received cash awards and appearance fees from privacy organizations and other groups.
Snowden is also entertaining book and movie projects, he said, though the U.S. could try to seize any such proceeds.
"Any moment that he decides that he wants to be a wealthy person, that route is available to him," Wizner told the Post.
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