White House ‘doesn’t know’ what files NSA leaker Edward Snowden has accessed
- Obama adviser admits they ‘don’t know’ which files Snowden has copied
- Further classified documents have been exposed on U.S. data collection
- NSA leaker Edward Snowden remains in the transit area of Moscow airport after leaving Hong Kong on Sunday
- U.S. demanded Russia extradites him immediately but Putin refused
By Helen Collis
The true extent of the security threat posed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is ‘unknown’, according to a top government aid, as it is revealed the White House is unsure what secret files he possesses.
The revelation came as a new batch of highly classified documents was made public across the internet yesterday, revealing how the U.S. government has collected online data in bulk.
Fugitive leaker Mr Snowden, who worked as an undercover computer specialist with the CIA before contracting with the National Security Agency, remains in the transit area of Sheremetyevo Airport, in Moscow. He had been expected to fly to Cuba but has not reportedly left Russia.
Speaking in Dakar, Senegal, Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser to President Obama, said: ‘Look, I don’t know with certainty what Mr Snowden has. That’s something we’re actively seeking to determine.’
Quoted in an ABC News article, Mr Rhodes said Snowden had already compromised ‘very classified programs’ by leaking secret files to three newspapers and by taking files out of the country.
Rhodes said it was still believed that Snowden was carrying the classified files on his person.
The government adviser said there were ‘strict protocols’ for how to handle classified information.
‘It doesn’t involve getting on a plane and going to Hong Kong and then getting on a plane and going to Russia,’ he said.
But there are fears the computer specialist may have hidden his tracks so well at the National Security Agency that it will be impossible to identify exactly what was copied.
The intelligence community is also in the process of assessing the potential damage to national security relating to leaked information so far.
Mr Snowden was expected to fly to Cuba on Monday, having booked a ticket from Moscow, but he did not board the plane. It is believed he may be having difficulties with his documents since the U.S. revoked his passport.
Meanwhile, supporters of Snowden’s campaign have gathered outside Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, holding up posters which say: ‘Russia is for Snowden!’, ‘We will not give Snowden to world gendarme!’ and ‘Snowden we are with you!’
Despite the U.S. urging Russia to extradite him immediately, President Vladimir Putin has refused, saying there is no extradition treaty with the U.S., and Snowden has not committed any crimes in his country.
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Until he leaves the airport, he must remain in the transit area, which serves both connecting passengers traveling via Moscow to onward destinations and passengers departing from Moscow who have passed border and security checks.
For such a long stay, he must have secured a transit visa from a consulate operating in the zone.
Exiting the area would either require boarding a plane or passing through border control. Both require a valid passport or other identification; the U.S. has revoked Snowden’s passport. The next possible flight to Cuba is Saturday.
President Obama has said he won’t engage in any ‘wheeling, dealing and trading’ to get NSA leaker Edward Snowden extradited from Russia to the United States.
‘I’m not going to be scrambling jets to get to a 29-year-old hacker,’ the president said of the whistleblower during his trip to Dakar, Senegal yesterday.
Speaking dismissively of the situation, Obama said that he has not personally called Putin or Chinese President Xi Jinping to request they extradite Snowden, adding: ‘I shouldn’t have to.’
He said that the documents leaked by Snowden have had their effect but that the government has responded that the surveillance programs are conducted legally and with proper oversight.
He added that Snowden’s story has the makings of a big-screen spy film or a ‘made-for-TV movie‘.
‘Until the minute of Snowden’s departure, the U.S. government hadn’t yet replied to our requests for clarification,’ Yuen told the Wall Street Journal. ‘Hong Kong’s government had no legal basis to block his departure.’
It is believed he hopes to seek asylum in Ecuador, a process which could take months.
Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino compared Snowden’s case to that of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, who has been given asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.
‘It took us two months to make a decision in the case of Assange, so do not expect us to make a decision sooner this time,’ Patino told reporters.
Snowden, who is charged with violating American espionage laws, fled Hong Kong on Sunday and flew to Russia.
Russia only acknowledged his arrival only on Tuesday, when President Vladimir Putin said Snowden was still in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirmed that he remained there on Wednesday.
Snowden had also booked a seat on a Havana-bound flight on Monday en route to Venezuela and then possible asylum in Ecuador, but he failed to board the plane.
Despite U.S. officials called for Snowden to be extradited immediately, but Russia said it would not as they have no extradition treaty with the country and Snowden has not committed a crime in Russia.