July 11, 2013

NSA leaker Edward Snowden facing unfriendly skies

Nearly every scenario of him flying out of Moscow could lead to his apprehension.

By Hannah Allam and Matt Schofield / McClatchy Washington Bureau

Beginning a third week holed up in a Moscow airport's transit zone, Edward Snowden finds himself far enough away to evade U.S. authorities, but also too far from any of the sympathetic nations willing to shelter him.

Photograph of former U.S. spy agency contractor Snowden is seen a page of a newspaper in Moscow
click image to enlarge

A picture of former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden is featured prominently on a newspaper at an underground walkway in central Moscow.

Reuters

JOURNALIST: SNOWDEN INSISTS HE DID NOT GIVE DATA TO RUSSIA OR CHINA

LONDON - The Guardian journalist at the center of a series of revelations about the National Security Agency's sweeping surveillance programs says his source, Edward Snowden, told him he never gave any information to the Russian or Chinese governments.

Glenn Greenwald says in an article published Wednesday on the Guardian's website that he spoke to Snowden over the weekend and on Tuesday and that the leaker "vehemently denied" rumors that his data had been acquired by Moscow or Beijing.

Greenwald quotes him as saying that "I never gave any information to either government, and they never took anything from my laptops."

Critics of Snowden's leaks have often wondered at his relationship with Chinese or Russian authorities.

Greenwald did not say where Snowden is or where he is expected to go.

-- The Associated Press

Aviation experts say that even if Snowden accepts the tentative offers of Venezuela, Nicaragua or Bolivia to give him shelter, it's virtually impossible to chart a flight plan to those nations that doesn't include traveling over or refueling in a U.S.-friendly country that could demand inspection of the plane -- and detain him.

Nations have full, exclusive jurisdiction over their airspace, so any plane carrying Snowden could be forced to land if it flies over the territory of a country that's willing to help American authorities capture the fugitive intelligence contractor. Snowden faces felony charges in the United States for leaking classified documents that detailed the National Security Agency's extensive surveillance apparatus.

"Nations control their airspace up to the heavens, the old saying goes," said John Q. Mulligan, an aviation law expert at DePaul University's College of Law. "Just look at the map. It's probably possible to figure out a route that wouldn't touch the airspace of the United States or any friendly nations, but it wouldn't be easy."

Snowden's best hope for breaking out of the transit area most likely hinges on whether he could sneak onto one of five weekly, direct flights to Havana. One such flight landed Tuesday evening, another leaves Thursday afternoon. The main drawback? The path takes the plane directly over the United States, which could flout a standing treaty and force a regularly scheduled commercial flight to land.

There are airplanes that can make the 6,000-mile direct flight from Moscow to Havana or Caracas with fuel to spare. The Airbus A340 has a range of about 9,000 miles and a Boeing 777 can fly for 9,400 miles before refueling. But a direct flight would mean passing through the airspace of European nations and possibly the United States. And chartering such a craft would be incredibly expensive -- $100,000 to start, and that's if a charter service could be found willing to risk angering the United States and perhaps being accused of aiding a fugitive.

"I don't know what sort of plane they'd have available to make that flight, especially without refueling," Mulligan said. "A refueling stop would probably be problematic for Snowden."

While President Obama has said he wouldn't be "scrambling jets" to haul in Snowden, the U.S. government has shown that it can pressure countries that would serve as pit stops for Snowden on his way to Latin America or other potential exile destinations. Snowden has petitioned more than 25 countries for asylum; the State Department has promised "grave difficulties" for bilateral relations with any nation that aids his escape.

Last week's diversion of Bolivian President Evo Morales' presidential jet as he attempted to return to Bolivia from Moscow was a cautionary tale for Snowden as he mulls exit strategies from transit-lounge limbo. France, Spain, Italy and Portugal denied Morales' requests to overfly their airspace on the way to a refueling stop in the Canary Islands.

The president's plane was rerouted to Austria and spent 14 hours there, touching off a diplomatic firestorm that may have made some Latin American nations even more willing to play host to Snowden, but also showed the limitations of their ability to help him.

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at OnlineSentinel.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)