The dramatic news today on the NSA front is that Edward Snowden has left Hong Kong and is on a flight to Moscow, apparently:
A Moscow-based reservations agent at Aeroflot, Russia’s national airline, said that Mr. Snowden was aboard flight SU213 to Moscow, with a scheduled arrival there a little after 5 p.m. Moscow time. The reservations agent said that Mr. Snowden was traveling on a one-way ticket to Moscow.
Mr. Snowden’s final destination was unclear, but there were signs that it might be beyond Moscow. The Russian foreign ministry said that Mr. Snowden appeared to be making a connection in Moscow to another destination, but did not say where.
Russia’s Interfax news service, citing a “person familiar with the situation,” reported that Mr. Snowden would remain in transit at an airport in Moscow for “several hours” pending an onward flight to Cuba, and would therefore not formally cross the Russian border or be subject to detention. Someone close to Mr. Snowden later told Interfax that he planned to continue on to Caracas, Venezuela.
The Hong Kong government released this extraordinary statement explaining why they had allowed Snowden to leave:
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.
The play here looks like appealing to perceived enemies of the US that have enough independence that they could resist US pressure, or will find some benefit in sheltering Snowden. Given the brutality that Bradley Manning faced, one could easily imagine Venezuela sighing that, “due to US treatment of dissidents, we regretfully cannot comply with this extradition order.” Stay tuned.
Finally McClatchy (still one of the most underrated papers in America) has a big story out today about the administration’s sweeping anti-leak program:
President Barack Obama’s unprecedented initiative, known as the Insider Threat Program, is sweeping in its reach. It has received scant public attention even though it extends beyond the U.S. national security bureaucracies to most federal departments and agencies nationwide, including the Peace Corps, the Social Security Administration and the Education and Agriculture departments. It emphasizes leaks of classified material, but catchall definitions of “insider threat” give agencies latitude to pursue and penalize a range of other conduct.
Government documents reviewed by McClatchy illustrate how some agencies are using that latitude to pursue unauthorized disclosures of any information, not just classified material. They also show how millions of federal employees and contractors must watch for “high-risk persons or behaviors” among co-workers and could face penalties, including criminal charges, for failing to report them. Leaks to the media are equated with espionage.