US chase turns to farce as Snowden 'vanishes'
The US has demanded that Russia hand over the fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden, as his efforts to evade US authorities took a farcical turn.
Mr Snowden arrived in Moscow on Sunday and was expected to fly out to Latin America shortly afterwards.
Yesterday, a plane heading for Cuba left seemingly without him, and the US suggested he had remained in Russia.
The army of journalists waiting to greet him were left bemused, and questioning where he could be, as those reporters who did manage to get on the plane were dismayed to discover that Mr Snowden's seat was empty.
Max Seddon, a reporter with AP, tweeted: "Cuba here we come. Taxiing down Sheremetevo runway and no sign of Snowden. Seats empty still by 17A."
There were suggestions that Mr Snowden could have been whisked into first class, or that officials from a third country could have sent their own private plane to pick him up. He could have remained in Russia, or he could have left the country immediately – giving everyone the slip.
US President Barack Obama said the US was using "all the appropriate legal channels" to apprehend him.
Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, said Washington assumed he was still in Moscow, and had registered its "deep disappointment" with Hong Kong and China for letting him slip away.
"This was a deliberate choice by the (Chinese) government to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant, and that decision unquestionably has a negative impact on the US-China relationship," said Mr Carney.
The 30-year-old, a former contractor for the NSA (National Security Agency), has confessed to publishing a trove of documents detailing America's surveillance of its own citizens and foreigners. He was charged with spying last Friday.
Kristinn Hrafnsson, spokes-man for WikiLeaks, confirmed he had made an informal approach to Iceland to enquire about asylum, as well as to Ecuador.
Ecuador granted political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange last August.
Mr Hrafnsson had, he said, carried out "similar processes elsewhere" – but refused to mention where Mr Snowden had sought asylum.
Michael Ratner, WikiLeaks' lawyer in the US, said it would be either a "big country like China or Russia", which could stand up to American pressure – "or else a small South American one, such as Venezuela, Ecuador, Cuba or Argentina".
But still no one knew where Mr Snowden was. Mr Snowden's lawyer Albert Ho said Mr Snowden was told by the authorities in Hong Kong that he could be at risk of arrest if he remained, and that he could be confined without his laptop.
He said Mr Snowden came to Hong Kong without a clear plan, and overestimated his freedom to move around Hong Kong. "He's a kid, I really think he's a kid," added Mr Ho.
Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, said his organisation assisted Mr Snowden in his flight. He refused to discuss where the American could be – only confirming he had travelled with Sarah Harrison, a WikiLeaks activist.
"Mr Snowden and Miss Harrison are healthy and in a safe place," he said. "I cannot give further information on their whereabouts or circumstances."
He denied claims Mr Snowden was being debriefed by the Russian authorities, or had held meetings with the Chinese.
He criticised the "extreme bellicose statements from the US, attempting to bully Russia into preventing Mr Snowden from soliciting asylum". (© Daily Telegraph, London)