Whistleblower Edward Snowden ‘has left Hong Kong for Russia’ with help from Wikileaks one day after US charges him with spying
- Hong Kong confirms Edward Snowden has got on flight to Moscow
- WikiLeaks said it is helping him and its legal advisors are with him on plane
- It is thought he will travel on to another country like Iceland or Ecuador
- Yesterday Snowden was charged in a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia
- He faces 30 years for charges including unauthorized communication of national defence information and theft of government property
- Hong Kong said it could not extradite him before he left because US request ‘did not fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law’
By Rosie Taylor
Wikileaks has helped US whistleblower Edward Snowden flee Hong Kong, it claimed today.
In a statement, WikiLeaks said its legal advisors were on the plane with Snowden and they would help ‘secure is safety’ at his ‘final destination’.
The whistleblower is expected to travel on to another country after landing in Russia. WikiLeaks did not reveal which one it would be, but it is expected to be Iceland or Ecuador as he is likely to be able to claim political asylum there.
In tweets from its official account, Wikileaks said: ‘WikiLeaks has assisted Mr. Snowden’s political asylum in a democratic country, travel papers ans [sic] safe exit from Hong Kong.
‘Mr. Snowden is currently over Russian airspace accompanied by WikiLeaks legal advisors.’
The Hong Kong government confirmed he had left the country this morning ‘on his own accord for a third country through a lawful and normal channel.’
He got an Aeroflot flight from Chep Lap Kok airport at 11.04am today (Hong Kong time) and is expected to arrive in Moscow’s Shermetyevo International Airport at 5.15pm.
A Moscow-based agent for the airline said Snowden was travelling on a one-way ticket and had one person with him whose surname was Harrison, the New York Times reported.
In a statement, WikiLeaks said: ‘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. 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.
‘Mr Snowden requested that WikiLeaks use its legal expertise and experience to secure his safety. Once Mr Snowden arrives at his final destination his request will be formally processed.’
Julian Assange’s lawyer, former Spanish Judge Mr Baltasar Garzon, said: ‘The WikiLeaks legal team and I are interested in preserving Mr Snowden’s rights and protecting him as a person. What is being done to Mr Snowden and to Mr Julian Assange – for making or facilitating disclosures in the public interest – is an assault against the people.’
In a statement, the Hong Kong government said it had told the US about his departure.
The US government yesterday warned Hong Kong not to drag its feet over extraditing Snowden after he was charged with theft, espionage and theft of government property.
Hong Kong said: ‘The US Government earlier on made a request to the HKSAR Government for the issue of a provisional warrant of arrest against Mr Snowden.
‘Since the documents provided by the US Government did not fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law, the HKSAR Government has requested the US Government to provide additional information so that the Department of Justice could consider whether the US Government’s request can meet the relevant legal conditions.
‘As the HKSAR Government has yet to have sufficient information to process the request for provisional warrant of arrest, there is no legal basis to restrict Mr Snowden from leaving Hong Kong.
‘Meanwhile, the HKSAR Government has formally written to the US Government requesting clarification on earlier reports about the hacking of computer systems in Hong Kong by US government agencies.
‘The HKSAR Government will continue to follow up on the matter so as to protect the legal rights of the people of Hong Kong.’
The Russian Embassy in Beijing refused to confirm or deny whether Snowden was on the flight, while the Russian consulate in Hong Kong declined to comment, the South China Morning Post reported.
Yesterday it was revealed that the White House has contacted authorities in Hong Kong to request the extradition of former intelligence analyst Edward Snowden for leaking details of secret surveillance operations, including those run in the UK.
The 30-year-old was charged with theft, espionage and theft of government property, and could face up to 30 years in prison.
In a statement the National Security Council said the US had spoken to authorities in the Chinese territory to discuss how Mr Snowden could be brought back to America.
White House national security adviser Tom Donilon told CBS News that US officials ‘expect (Hong Kong) to comply with the treaty in his case’ after they presented a ‘good case for extradition’.
A senior administration official warned that if Hong Kong did not act quickly it would ‘complicate relations’.
The extradition request came after the Guardian reported that UK eavesdropping agency GCHQ is able to tap into and store internet and communications data from cables for up to 30 days so it can be analysed under an operation codenamed Tempora.
Helping hand: WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson, left, approached Iceland on behalf of Snowden and his middleman. Julian Assange, right, also sought help from Iceland ahead of Wikileaks’ releases
The Cheltenham-based agency would not comment on intelligence matters but insisted it was ‘scrupulous’ in complying with the law.
The newspaper said there were two principal components to the agency’s surveillance programme, called Mastering the Internet and Global Telecoms Exploitation.
It claimed the data was shared with the organisation’s US counterpart the National Security Agency (NSA).
BT, one of the UK’s main fibre-optic network providers, said it could not comment on national security issues.
The information is the latest leak from Snowden, the former NSA contractor responsible for a string of disclosures about US intelligence operations.
The American has admitted providing information to the news media about two highly classified NSA surveillance programmes.
The Guardian claimed Operation Tempora had been running for 18 months and GCHQ and the NSA are consequently able to access vast quantities of communications between innocent people as well as targeted suspects, including phone calls, the content of email messages, Facebook entries and a user’s internet history.
Snowden, who fled the US for Hong Kong after deciding to reveal the NSA’s secrets, told the newspaper he wanted to expose ‘the largest programme of suspicionless surveillance in human history’.
‘It’s not just a US problem. The UK has a huge dog in this fight,’ he said. ‘They (GCHQ) are worse than the US.’
The Guardian reported that GCHQ lawyers told US counterparts there was a ‘light oversight regime’ in Britain compared with America.
IS ICELAND SAFE FOR SNOWDEN?
Iceland has a reputation for promoting internet freedoms and has long been discussed as an option for Snowden.
As a U.S. citizen, Snowden would not need a visa to enter Iceland and could immediately apply for asylum. He would be free to live in Iceland while immigration authorities decide his case, which could take more than a year, experts have said.
But if Snowden wants to seek refuge in Iceland, he’ll have to get there first. And this is where the U.S. could have a chance.
Interpol will sometimes issue a ‘red notice’ – which is like an international arrest warrant – but keep it sealed so that the person doesn’t know it exists. If he tried to travel, he would be arrested at the airport.
If he did get to Iceland, it is unknown if he would be safe. The government of newly-elected Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson is believed to be closer to Washington than past administrations and less keen to foster the country’s cyber-haven image.
‘I would be very surprised if they (the government) would be eager to engage in any international disputes with the U.S. And it is pretty difficult to be granted asylum here,’ Stefania Oskarsdottir, lecturer in political science at the University of Iceland, told Reuters. ‘I think what this guy is saying is based on something he is imagining or hoping for rather than actual facts.’
Iceland does have an extradition treaty with the United States, but it is unclear if it would cover any crimes that he might be charged with.
The newspaper said the documents revealed that by last year GCHQ was handling 600 million ‘telephone events’ each day, had tapped more than 200 fibre-optic cables and was able to process data from at least 46 of them at a time.
A GCHQ spokeswoman said: ‘We do not comment on intelligence matters. Our intelligence agencies continue to adhere to a rigorous legal compliance regime. GCHQ are scrupulous in their legal compliance.’
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the Tory chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, said he expected to receive a written report from GCHQ about the latest allegations.
Sir Malcolm said the committee will launch an investigation into the latest revelations, the Observer said.
Reports that GCHQ lawyers told US counterparts there was a ‘light oversight regime’ in Britain compared with America are ‘worrying’, Foreign Office minister David Davis told the Observer.
He said: ‘This reinforces the view that the oversight structure is wholly inadequate. Really what is needed is a full-scale independent judicial oversight that reports to Parliament.’
Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, said the breadth of snooping was no surprise, the Observer said.
‘It’s possible to be shocked but not surprised at this blanket surveillance on a breathtaking scale,’ she said.
‘The authorities appear to be kidding themselves with a very generous interpretation of the law that cannot stand with article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.’
Last night WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange called for countries to step forward to offer asylum to Snowden.
The Australian – who has himself been holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for over a year to avoid extradition to the United States – said the surveillance whistleblower’s ‘ordeal is just beginning’.
In a statement, Assange, 41, said: ‘Two dangerous runaway processes have taken root in the last decade, with fatal consequences for democracy.
‘Government secrecy has been expanding on a terrific scale. Simultaneously, human privacy has been secretly eradicated.’
He added: ‘The US government is spying on each and every one of us, but it is Edward Snowden who is charged with espionage for tipping us off. Let’s be very careful about who we call ‘traitor’. Edward Snowden is one of us.’