WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange was granted asylum by Ecuador in June 2012, but has yet to set foot in that country, spending the last year stuck in the country's London embassy. Assange is urging Edward Snowden, the former Booz Allen Hamilton employee who exposed secret National Security Agency surveillance programs, to consider relocating to Latin America while he can.
"We don't know all of the strategy that Snowden and perhaps the journalists and his advisors have put together," Assange told CNN Monday. "Looking at it from the surface, I would strongly advise him to go to Latin America. Latin America has shown in the past 10 years that it is really pushing forward in human rights. There's a long tradition of asylum."
"We have been monitoring the situation very closely," Assange said. "I have a lot of personal experience in this situation and so does the organization and we're trying to help in the limited ways that we can."
On Tuesday Ecuador's foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, urged British authorities to allow Assange to leave the country's small diplomatic post to soak up the sun. "We believe he has a fundamental right to sunbathe," said Patino, who will meet with U.K. officials in London Sunday to negotiate safe passage for Assange to Ecuador. "His right to intimacy, mobility, a normal life and health is being restricted," Patino told The London Evening Standard.
Snowden is not currently charged with committing a crime, but he almost certainly will be as the U.S. Justice Department considers its options against him. Several attorneys in Hong Kong speculated that Snowden might be able to receive refugee status in the former British colony because of the alleged poor treatment of purported WikiLeaks source Pfc. Bradley Manning.
When he outed himself Sunday as the man responsible for the NSA leaks, Snowden specifically named Iceland as his desired refuge. But Iceland requires asylum-seekers to arrive in the island nation before applying for protection, Iceland's ambassador to China said.
Assange predicted "a very serious and aggressive action" by the U.S. government against Snowden in a Monday interview with Sky News.
"Everyone should go to their local politicians and press and demand that they step forward and offer Mr. Snowden asylum in their country and it will be really telling to see which countries genuinely protect human rights, genuinely protect the privacy of the public," Assange said, "[and] which countries are scared of the United States or are in bed with this surveillance complex."
Assange accused Obama of using "secret law, secret policy and secret review" to operate the massive Internet and phone-record surveillance exposed by Snowden.
Snowden was officially fired Tuesday by Booz Allen Hamilton, which had assigned him to work at the NSA's Hawaii office. His whereabouts are unknown since he checked out of the Mira Hotel in Hong Kong on Monday.
The Obama administration aggressively pursued WikiLeaks after it began publishing a massive cache of classified U.S. documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and between U.S. State Department personnel, cajoling major U.S. credit card companies into cutting off donations for the publisher and seizing the organization's volunteers and their electronic devices at airports.
Assange is wanted for questioning in Sweden about two alleged sex crimes. Assange sought asylum in Ecuador after losing a legal fight against extradition to Sweden, which he believes is part of a U.S. plot to imprison him for publishing secret documents.
Snowden's massive leak exposed an acceleration of domestic surveillance under President Barack Obama's leadership and embarrassed the president, who once claimed to preside over the most transparent U.S. administration in history.
Chinese pro-free speech dissident Ai Weiwei compared U.S. Internet surveillance to China's Web policies in a Tuesday editorial in the Guardian. "[O]fficials always think what they do is necessary, and firmly believe they do what is best for the state and the people," he wrote. "But, as I know, such abuse of power can ruin lives."
Congressional reaction to the leak has been mixed. One of the authors of the Patriot Act cited as justification for the secret programs, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., told U.S. News the PRISM Internet program violates the Fourth Amendment. House Speaker John Boehner and Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., however, accused Snowden of treason.