11 June 2013, 05:46

Russia to consider political asylum for Edward Snowden if he files request

Russian authorities have promised to join the ranks of those willing to consider giving Snowden political asylum, if he files a formal request, Kommersant newspaper reports citing a Kremlin spokesman on Tuesday. 

“If we receive such a request, we will consider it,” Dmitry Peskov was quoted.

The whereabouts of whistleblower Edward Snowden were shrouded in mystery on Monday as US lawmakers demanded his immediate extradition from Hong Kong over his sensational leaking of an Internet surveillance program.

Snowden, a 29-year-old technology expert working for a private firm subcontracted to the US National Security Agency, checked out of his Hong Kong hotel after revealing his identity to the British-based Guardian newspaper on Sunday.

The private contractor has become an instant hero for transparency advocates and libertarians around the globe following his exposure of the NSA's worldwide monitoring of private users web traffic and phone records.

But the US government appeared to be gearing up to take action against Snowden on Monday with senior lawmakers branding his actions as "treason" and saying he should be extradited from Hong Kong as quickly as possible.

California's Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein - chair of the Senate Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence - declined to go into specifics but said US authorities were vigorously pursuing Snowden.

Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, has had an extradition agreement with the United States for more than a decade.

'Pardon Edward Snowden' petition seeks White House response

A petition to pardon Edward Snowden, who has acknowledged leaking secret documents from the U.S. National Security Agency, attracted more than 22,000 electronic signatures by Monday afternoon, one day after it was posted on the White House website.

"Edward Snowden is a national hero and should be immediately issued a full, free and absolute pardon for any crimes he has committed or may have committed related to blowing the whistle on secret NSA surveillance programs," read the petition created by "P.M." of Rochester, New York, on Sunday.

Snowden, an outside contractor for the NSA, announced in a video on Sunday from Hong Kong that he was the source of leaks about the ultra-secret agency's surveillance programs. By Monday, he had dropped out of sight and was expected to face an extradition battle to face U.S. legal charges.

The NSA has requested a criminal probe into the leaks and, on Sunday, the U.S. Justice Department said it was in the initial stages of a criminal investigation.

If the petition gains 100,000 signatures by July 9, the White House will review it, forward it to policy experts and issue an official response as part of the Obama administration's "We the People" effort to engage Americans in government.

White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to comment on Snowden's status at Monday's briefing: "When it comes to the petitions, we obviously will wait, a threshold being crossed before we respond to it. That threshold has not been crossed. ... Assessments are being made more broadly about the damage done here by the appropriate authorities."

The Snowden pardon petition was by far the most popular among those created recently on the White House site at https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petitions, followed by one demanding President Barack Obama's resignation, with just over 13,000 signatures.

A petition challenging Obama to a live, public debate with Snowden had just over 400 signatures by Monday afternoon, while one to free Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier charged with the biggest leak of classified files in the nation's history, had more than 1,200.

Manning, a U.S. Army private first class, was in the second week of his court-martial on Monday at Fort Meade, Maryland.

White House declines comment on Snowden, leaks investigation

The White House will not discuss the investigation into leaks of details of a top secret U.S. surveillance program nor Edward Snowden, the former CIA employee who has said he was the source of the leak, spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday.

Carney also said he did not expect the debate over the surveillance program to overshadow President Barack Obama's trip to Europe next week to the G8 summit and to Berlin.

Julian Assange praises NSA leaker as a hero

Edward Snowden is a "hero" who has exposed "one of the most serious events of the decade – the creeping formulation of a mass surveillance state", Julian Assange said on Monday.

The WikiLeaks founder said the question of surveillance abuses by states and tech companies was "something that I and many other journalists and civil libertarians have been campaigning about for a long time. It is very pleasing to see such clear and concrete proof presented to the public."

Assange told Sky News that Snowden was "in a very, very serious position, because we can see the kind of rhetoric that occurred against me and Bradley Manning back in 2010, 2011, applied to Snowden".

NSA whistleblower checks out of Hong Kong hotel

The contractor at the National Security Agency who leaked details of top-secret U.S. surveillance programs dropped out of sight in Hong Kong on Monday. Reporters from several western newspapers have determined which Hong Kong hotel Snowden had recently been staying at by recognizing a table lamp of characteristic shape, visible in his video interview. It turned out that Snowden had been hiding away at Mira hotel, reports ITAR-TASS.

Edward Snowden, 29, who provided the information for published reports last week that revealed the NSA's broad monitoring of phone call and Internet data from Google and Facebook, checked out of his Hong Kong hotel hours after going public in a video released on Sunday by Britain's Guardian newspaper, his disclosures sending shockwaves.

Journalists of the newspaper "Daily Telegraph" contacted the hotel staff, who confirmed that a man named Edward Snowden had been staying there, but checked out on Monday and left for an unknown destination.

Previously, Snowden had said that he was not going into hiding.

"I intend to ask for political asylum in any country that believes in freedom of speech and is against violations of privacy," - said the former CIA officer.

GOP’s Peter King: Edward Snowden must be extradited and prosecuted

Leading Republicans in the House have called for the extradition of the man at the heart of the National Security Agency information scandal, Edward Snowden, who is in Hong Kong.

The United States and Hong Kong have an extradition treaty, but the treaty makes exceptions for political offenses.

“If Edward Snowden did in fact leak the NSA data as he claims, the United States government must prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law and begin extradition proceedings at the earliest date,” said Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee, in The Guardian, a British paper. “The United States must make it clear that no country should be granting this individual asylum. This is a matter of extraordinary consequence to American intelligence.”

Mr. Snowden has been in Hong Kong for 10 days, openly giving interviews to The Guardian and seeming proud of his whistleblowing activities. Civil rights activists are hailing him as a hero of sorts.

“As a whistleblower myself, this is one of the most significant leakers in my lifetime and in U.S. history,” said Jesselyn Radack, a former Justice Department attorney who represents whistleblowers, in a Reuters report.

Voice of Russia, RT, AFP, Reuters, RIA, TASS, NY Times

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