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Peripatetic Snowden eyes asylum in Ecuador

Associated Press

"Where in the world if Edward Snowden?" is proving to be a rather complicated question.

Late Friday, we learned that Snowden is now facing formal criminal charges in the United States, charged with violating the Espionage Act and stealing government property for disclosing classified information, with additional allegations likely after his indictment. Soon after, officials in Hong Kong announced that the former NSA contractor had departed the country.

Where did he go and where is he headed? Well, that's a little tricky. Russia's national airline said Snowden left Hong Kong for Moscow, and from there, he would fly to Cuba and then possibly Ecuador.

The American authorities were scrambling on Monday to figure out how to catch Edward J. Snowden, the former national security contractor accused of espionage, as he led them on an international chase, frustrating the Obama administration and threatening to strain relations on three continents.

Diplomats and law enforcement officials from the United States warned countries in Latin America not to harbor Mr. Snowden or allow him to pass through to other destinations after he fled Hong Kong for Moscow, possibly en route to Ecuador or another nation where he could seek asylum.

To that end, there was apparently some drama in Moscow's airport this morning, when there was heavy security surrounding a flight to Havana. Journalists tracking Snowden's whereabouts quickly bought tickets on the flight, only to discover once they were on board and the doors were shut that he would not be on the plane.

It is, incidentally, a 12-hour flight from Moscow to Havana, which those journalists are apparently taking for no reason. On the other hand, it'll be a whole lot of frequent-flier miles for them.

Meanwhile, Ricardo Patino, Ecuador's Foreign Minister, confirmed on Twitter that his government had "received an asylum application from Snowden." And why would Snowden want to go there?

Dave Weigel explains:

First, the country has an enviably loopholed extradition treaty with the United States. Outlaws wanted for offenses "of a political character" can dodge extradition. The oh-so-bright American senators who rushed to call Snowden a "traitor" have certainly created the impression that Snowden is wanted for political reasons, and in his interviews he's happy to reinforce this.

Second, the ruling regime in Ecuador doesn't really care what America thinks. In 2006, the country gave its presidency to Rafael Correa. A fan and ally of Hugo Chavez, Correa reversed decades of Ecuadorian kow-towing to the United States by declaring the national debt illegitimate and defaulting on the country's bonds. A country that had adopted the U.S. dollar as a default currency had sparked a nationalist debt revolt -- and it sort of won. Correa, never as colorful as Chavez, still consolidated power and won a landslide re-election. Giving asylum to people who make America look weak, and spill its secrets, is easy politics for him.

The result: Snowden, avoiding extradition, is on a world tour of regimes generally more hostile to press and information freedom than the United States is. At the moment he's less concerned with irony than with avoiding jail.

All of this, by the way, is turning into quite an international media spectacle. The New York Times front-page report on Snowden's whereabouts this morning featured reporting from ten journalists in five cities on two continents. The Washington Post's front-page report featured reporting from nine journalists in seven cities spanning four continents.

Who knew the Snowden story would become a full-employment initiative for reporters?