The whereabouts of the former defense contractor who claimed responsibility for one of the most high profile leaks in U.S. government history remained unknown as of Monday morning, hours after he reportedly left his refuge in Hong Kong.
Edward Snowden left Hong Kong Sunday bound for Moscow, where he was supposed to continue a reported voyage through Cuba and Venezuela, ultimately landing in Ecuador where he would seek political asylum. The former CIA technician and contractor for the NSA claims responsibility for dumping documents on the Internet earlier in June that unveiled a secretive government electronic monitoring program.
The New York Times on Monday retracted earlier reports that Snowden was staying in a Hong Kong security services safe house.
The U.S. State Department has reportedly annulled Snowden's passport, according to the Associated Press. He has not been seen leaving Russia as of Monday morning. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed his concerns regarding Russia or China's potential involvement or knowledge of Snowden's plans.
"It would be deeply troubling, obviously, if they had adequate notice, and notwithstanding that, they make the decision willfully to ignore that and not live by the standards of the law," he said, according to Foreign Policy. Snowden reportedly requested political asylum in Ecuador, saying a fair trial and humanitarian treatment in the U.S. would be impossible, CNN reports.
The Ecuadorian embassy in London still houses notoriously elusive Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks which has been supporting Snowden's case since first helping him leak the documents. Assange is fighting extradition charges to Sweden for an unrelated sexual assault case.
Snowden's actions and subsequent flight has largely been panned by members of Congress.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, chastised Snowden's reported decision to seek refuge in Cuba and Venezuela, two countries that have historically harbored U.S. fugitives.
"The cruel irony is that there are no press freedoms in either Cuba or Venezuela, yet Snowden who supposedly stands for transparency in government seeks refuge in police states like these two countries," she said in a written statement. The respective leaders of those countries, Raul Castro and Nicolas Maduro, do not allow independent press or cooperation on terrorism-related issues says Ros-Lehtinen, who was born in Havana.
"I'm concerned that Castro or Maduro can use the NSA leaker as a bargaining chip to get more concessions from the Obama administration. Cuba has a sophisticated espionage service that controls the Venezuelan regime and undermines U.S. interests," she said. "If the NSA leaker shares our intelligence capabilities with either authoritarian state, it would further jeopardize our national security."
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a historic critic of big government, defended the programs Snowden unveiled while speaking Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," saying "Americans would be pretty well satisfied" with the programs if Congress were allowed to reveal more about it.
"We don't go and monitor the phone calls until we have a connection with a terrorist," he said. "It's a whole different story than what has been blown out of proportion."
He added that the NSA surveillance is constitutional, and "the most oversighted program in the federal government."