NSA leaker Edward Snowden's fate seemed to grow more dire Sunday as the president of one country offering him asylum seemed to back away from the offer while the nation currently hosting him won't let him leave the airport.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange acknowledged Sunday that Snowden appears to be "marooned in Russia." The president of Ecuador -- Rafael Correa -- said that the Ecuadoran documents originally issued to Snowden were a mistake and that Snowden is ultimately Russia's problem.
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"He doesn't have a passport. I don't know the Russian laws, I don't know if he can leave the airport, but I understand that he can't," Correa told The Associated Press. "At this moment he's under the care of the Russian authorities."
Despite Russia's repeated claims that Snowden is not technically in their territory, Correa said "this is the decision of Russian authorities."
Snowden is said to be in the transit zone of the Moscow airport. He has a standing request for asylum with Ecuador, and Correa said that if he arrives at an Ecuadorean embassy, the country will analyze that request.
But Ecuador reportedly revoked refugee documents that potentially could have been used to get Snowden to South America.
Correa confirmed that the Ecuadorean consul in London committed "a serious error" by initially issuing the letter of safe passage for Snowden, which is what allowed him to leave Hong Kong for Russia after U.S. authorities revoked his American passport. Correa said the consul would be punished, though he didn't specify how.
Correa never entirely closed the door to Snowden, whom he said had drawn vital attention to the U.S. eavesdropping program and potential violations of human rights. But Correa appeared to be sending the message that it is unlikely Snowden will ever end up in Ecuador. He repeatedly emphasized the importance of the U.S. legal process and praised Vice President Joe Biden for what he described as a courteous and appreciated half-hour call about the Snowden case on Friday.
He similarly declined to reject an important set of U.S. trade benefits for Ecuadorean exports, again a contrast with his government’s unilateral renunciation of a separate set of tariff benefits earlier in the week.
“If he really could have broken North American laws, I am very respectful of other countries and their laws and I believe that someone who breaks the law must assume his responsibilities,” Correa said. “But we also believe in human rights and due process.”
He said Biden had asked him to send Snowden back to the United States immediately because he faces criminal charges, is a fugitive from justice and has had his passport revoked.
“I told him that we would analyze his opinion, which is very important to us,” Correa said, adding that he had demanded the return of several Ecuadoreans who are in the United States but face criminal charges at home.
“I greatly appreciated the call,” he said, contrasting it with threats made by a small group of U.S. senators to revoke Ecuadorean trade privileges. “When I received the call from Vice President Biden, which was with great cordiality and a different vision, we really welcomed it a lot.”
With Snowden carrying no documents from Ecuador and no U.S. passport, Assange, whose group is helping the former U.S. contractor evade extradition to the U.S., affirmed that Snowden has entered a state of limbo.
The fallout from Snowden’s disclosures also widened over the weekend as the German magazine Der Spiegel reported that the United States had eavesdropped on European Union offices in Washington, Brussels and at the United Nations in New York.
Assange blamed the United States for stripping Snowden of his U.S. passport, in turn curbing his ability to travel. Assange said on ABC's "This Week" that "for the moment" Snowden appears to be stuck in Russia.
But he also said the steady trickle of intelligence leaks to the media will not be stopped.
"There is no stopping the publishing process at this stage," he said, adding "great care" has been taken to ensure that.
Snowden is a "hero," and taking away his passport is a "disgrace," Assange said.
"Great care has been taken to make sure that Mr. Snowden can't be pressured by any state to stop the publication process," Assange said.
"The United States, by canceling his passport, has left him for the moment marooned in Russia. Is that really what (the State Department) wanted to do?"
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Assange, speaking from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been granted protection from European extradition connected to an alleged sex crime, said that every citizen has a right to citizenship, and a U.S. order to take away Snowden's deprives him from his "principal component of citizenship" at a time when he has not been convicted of anything.
"There are no international warrants out for his arrest," said Assange. "To take a passport from a young man in a difficult situation like that is a disgrace."
Assange said the WikiLeaks legal team has been in contact with Snowden, who faces espionage charges in the United States for leaking information about the NSA's internet and cell phone surveillance programs.
The Obama administration is demanding Snowden be sent back to the United States. Russian President Vladimir Putin refused
to send Snowden back, calling him a "free person."
But Assange said that the information Snowden released shows "the people of the world and the United States that there is mass unlawful interception of their communications" that reach far beyond the Richard Nixon-era Watergate scandal.
"Obama can’t just turn around like Nixon did and said, it’s OK, if the president does it, if the president authorizes it,” Assange said.
Assange also said Snowden's father, Lonnie Snowden has also asked if WikiLeaks was involved in the NSA leaks. He said his legal team has contacted the elder Snowden's lawyer to put his concerns at rest.
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