WikiLeaks' Assange says NSA leaker Snowden is 'in a safe place'

McClatchy Washington BureauJune 24, 2013 

WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange told reporters Monday that his organization has been in contact with NSA leaker Edward Snowden since he touched down in Moscow on Sunday, and knows his current location.

“We are aware of where Mr. Snowden is, he’s in a safe place, and his spirits are high,” Assange said during an on-the-record phone briefing. “Due to the bellicose threats coming from the U.S. administration, we can’t go into further details at this time.”

The WikiLeaks founder and legal representatives were tight-lipped about details concerning Snowden’s current and future travel plans, but confirmed that he has sought legal asylum at least in Ecuador and Iceland with the help of WikiLeaks.

“The WikiLeaks legal team did assist with Mr. Snowden’s application (for asylum) and its drafting, as we have significant experience in drafting such an application having gone through the process already for me,” said Assange, who was granted political asylum by Ecuador in 2012 and has been living in the country’s London embassy.

In addition to legal assistance, Assange said that WikiLeaks is fronting the travel and lodging costs for Snowden since his departure from Hong Kong.

Snowden’s U.S. passport was revoked on Saturday, but Assange confirmed that Snowden was able to leave China through refugee documents granted to him by the Ecuadorian government. Although Assange said this issuance does not imply the country’s acceptance of Snowden’s asylum application, it does signal initial cooperation on what could be a lengthy process.

Assange was careful not to implicate any other governments in Snowden’s travel, saying that to his knowledge, the Chinese government did not aid him during his stay, and that Russian authorities did not know of his impending arrival in Moscow.

“In relation to Mr. Snowden’s safe passage to asylum, there was no advanced communication with Russian officials prior to his departure from Hong Kong,” Assange said. Pressed on whether this meant the Russian government had no idea Snowden was headed their way, the line was silent. “My answer is what it was,” he said after a brief pause.

Since revealing his identity on June 9 as the source of leaked information on government surveillance, Snowden has been the subject of a global manhunt that has sent U.S. authorities and reporters across the world. The Obama administration has issued a global appeal to have Snowden extradited to the U.S. to face felony criminal charges after leaking highly classified National Security documents, and has urged numerous countries not to grant him asylum.

“The charging of Edward Snowden is not a matter of justice, it is an attempt to intimidate any country that might be considering standing up for his rights to tell us all the truth,” Assange said. “It is counterproductive and unacceptable for the Obama administration to try…and revoke those rights. It reflects poorly on the U.S. administration and no self-respecting country would submit to such bullying by the U.S. in this matter.”

Assange said that Snowden has expressed no regret over revealing a wide-reaching cyberspying operation functioning both inside and outside U.S. borders.

Despite attempts to track Snowden’s travel after his arrival in Russia, the 30-year-old former contractor never showed up for his seat on a flight to Cuba this morning. The White House said Monday afternoon that they are assuming he is still in Russia, and see China’s role in Snowden’s flight as a “setback in their efforts to build mutual trust.”

Correction: This story originally miscalculated Edward Snowden's age. He is 30.

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