Edward Snowden had a few options available to him in Hong Kong despite facing extradition for espionage and theft charges. Beyond the appeals process that would have held off the inevitable for several years, there were certain built-in safety nets (the "political offense exception" built into the US-Hong Kong extradition treaty and protections against "inhumane treatment" via the UN) ihat could have seen him avoid extradition altogether.
Those no longer matter as Snowden is on his way to Ecuador, via Moscow and Cuba, accompanied by a member of Wikileaks' legal team. The US government was informed about Snowden's departure roughly five hours after he boarded an Aeroflot plane headed to Moscow. According to the statement released by Hong Kong officials, they had no choice but to let Snowden go.
Edward Snowden has left Hong Kong on his own accord for a third country through a lawful and normal channel, and Hong Kong has informed the US Government of his departure...
Since the documents provided by the US Government did not fully comply with legal requirements under Hong Kong law, the Hong Kong Government requested additional information so that the Department of Justice could consider whether the US Government's request met relevant legal conditions.
As the Hong Kong Government did not yet have sufficient information to process the request, there was no legal basis to restrict Mr Snowden from leaving Hong Kong.
It's a rarely seen event, but someone has just told the US government, "Your papers are not in order." That's a hell of a thing to wake up to, especially if you're one of the members of the "harmed" parties. (Supposedly Snowden's actions would harm all Americans
from the way the anti-whistleblower contingent makes it sound, but really it's just the NSA and the FBI that have been caught with their particulars exposed.)
Hong Kong officials added one more paragraph to its statement, one which explains why Snowden was given a five-hour head start.
At the same time, it has formally written to the US Government requesting clarification on reports about the hacking of computer systems in Hong Kong by US government agencies. It will follow up on the matter, to protect the legal rights of people of Hong Kong.
In other words, Hong Kong finds the US government's actions more problematic than Snowden's actions, so have fun catching your boy!
Snowden's escape will be an embarrassment to those who publicly stated their confidence that Hong Kong would comply with the orders.
The White House appears to have been caught flat-footed by the latest manoeuvres. On Saturday, President Obama's national security adviser, Tom Donilon, told CBS news he expected Hong Kong to arrest Snowden because it "has been a historically good partner of the United States in law enforcement matters and we expect them to comply with the treaty in this case".
In fact, the US government is looking particularly hapless, what with its stern demands
to Hong Kong before Snowden left, followed by similarly pathetic demands to Russia
to not let Snowden hop a flight onto his next destination.
So, Snowden is on his way to Ecuador, seeking asylum in the same country that opened up its doors, heart and embassy Hide-a-bed to Julian Assange. His itinerary was hardly direct, but it made stops in nations unlikely to greet him at the airport with handcuffs and a seat on the next flight to the United States. Traveling to Russia and Cuba made it much less likely that someone would "officially" recognize the fact that the US government had revoked Snowden's passport prior
to his boarding the flight to Russia. (Of all Snowden's worries, traveling with a revoked passport has to be so far down the list as to be imperceptible.)
He's left behind a wealth of information, all of which the US government would rather have kept secret. A trail of angry politicians and security officials also follow close behind, decrying his every move, including CISPA sponsor Mike Rogers
"When you look at it, every one of these nations is hostile to the United States," Rogers said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
"If he could go to North Korea and Iran, he could round out his 'government oppression tour.' So when you think about what he says he wants and what his actions are, it defies logic."
I doubt Snowden sympathizes with oppressive governments, but he does know who's more likely to ignore US pleas, threats or attempted intervention. Considering what's happened to other whistleblowers, the US government looks a bit oppressive itself, at least from Snowden's viewpoint. Still, Rogers thinks Snowden should just come home and get what's coming to him.
"If he really believed he did something good, he should get on a plane, come back, and face the consequences of his actions," Rogers said.
His statement makes no sense. Rogers has already declared Snowden guilty as charged and seems to think Snowden should martyr himself for his cause via the No Good Deed Goes Unpunished Whistleblower Retribution Plan that George Bush and (especially) Barack Obama
are so fond of. Whistleblowers like Snowden should "face the consequences" while the government's excesses and overreach should be allowed to continue on unpunished in perpetuity.
There is a potential downside to Snowden's actions. By seeking asylum in a country with a somewhat antagonistic relationship with the US, there's always the possibility that he'll be used as a pawn when politically convenient. Ecuador has already proven it has a rather flexible definition of "asylum," one which allows it to suddenly revoke "refugee" status
if certain governments ask nicely. Given the right circumstances, his hosts could decide to offer his freedom in exchange for something it really
wants, or to avoid something it doesn't.