The drama surrounding Edward Snowden, the fugitive and leaker of U.S. spying secrets, has slowed down markedly as the major players take a breath and try to figure out what to do next.
President Obama, traveling in Senegal, said Thursday, "I'm not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker." Obama seemed eager to keep the Snowden case from capturing even more headlines, as it has for much of this month. Obama told reporters that he doesn't consider the case urgent enough for him to personally contact the leaders of China and Russia to have Snowden sent back to the United States, from which he fled to avoid prosecution for espionage.
"I have not called President Xi personally or President Putin personally, and the reason is because, Number One, I shouldn't have to," Obama told reporters. "This is something that routinely is dealt with between law enforcement officials in various countries and this is not exceptional from a legal perspective.
"Number Two, we've got a whole lot of business that we do with China and Russia, and I'm not going to have one case ... suddenly being elevated to the point where I've got to start ... wheeling and dealing and trading on a whole host of other issues simply to get a guy extradited so that he can face the justice system in the United States."
But Obama said Russia and China "should be abiding by international law, and we'll continue to press them as hard as we can to make sure they do so."
Obama said "the damage was done" when Snowden leaked classified information about National Security Agency surveillance programs, and the president said he is now focused on preventing similar incidents from happening again. He said he also wants to encourage a national debate on the proper balance between security and privacy. "I get why it's a fascinating story from a press perspective," Obama said. "I'm sure there will be a made-for-TV movie."
As for Snowden, he apparently remains in limbo, waiting in an international transit area of the Moscow airport as he tries to find refuge in another country. It had been thought that he was headed to Ecuador via Cuba. But Flight 150 from Moscow to Havana took off Thursday afternoon without Snowden aboard, the New York Times reported.
Snowden, a former U.S. contract employee, first fled to Hong Kong. Chinese authorities refused to send him to the United States and he moved on to Moscow. Now, Russian authorities don't seem to be in a hurry to resolve his situation, and apparently they don't have any intention to send him back to the United States. His status in Ecuador remains unclear, but authorities there are considering whether to grant him asylum.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook and Twitter.