NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is en route to Ecuador, according to a statement released Sunday by WikiLeaks. Snowden is accused by American authorities of violating the Espionage Act for releasing top secret documents that showed massive Internet and telephone surveillance by the federal government.
Snowden had been holed up in Hong Kong for a month as he released documents to The Guardian and other publications. He arrived in Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport on Sunday. U.S. authorities had asked that Hong Kong arrest Snowden and revoke his passport before his flight, according to White House spokesman Jay Carney, who denounced the autonomous Chinese territory during a Monday press briefing.
Snowden "is bound for the Republic of Ecuador via a safe route for the purposes of asylum, and is being escorted by diplomats and legal advisors from WikiLeaks," according to WikiLeaks. "Once Snowden arrives in Ecuador his request will be formally processed."
Russia's government has made no apparent attempt to arrest Snowden. Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman said the country would consider granting asylum to Snowden.
The whistleblower was supposed to leave Moscow on a flight to Havana, Cuba, on Monday, but according to news reports, he was not on the flight – for unknown reasons. After a stop in Cuba – a famous safe haven for Americans on the run – he will arrive in Ecuador, a country that extradited no alleged criminals to the U.S. between 2003 and 2011, according to U.S. Marshals Service data.
Although the handling of Snowden's case is intimately connected to international politics, extradition to the U.S. is already infrequent in some countries that Snowden has – or may have plans to – travel through.
According to information from U.S Marshals Service, compiled by the New America Foundation and Slate, between 2003 and 2011, many countries that have extradition treaties with the U.S. – including Ecuador, Venezuela and Cuba – didn't extradite any alleged criminals to the U.S. Russia extradited just three people during the same time period. Colombia, Ecuador's northern neighbor, extradited 1,201 people to the U.S. between 2003 and 2011.
Although its lethargic Internet service might seem unappealing to high-tech whistleblowers, Cuba still harbors fugitives who fled the U.S. during the turbulent 1960s and '70s, including Joanne Chesimard, a former black radical accused of murdering a police officer. Cuba, along with Algeria — where LSD advocate Timothy Leary fled in 1970, briefly living with Black Panther Party exile Eldridge Cleaver – was once a popular choice of refuge for political radicals accused of crimes in the U.S.
In high-profile cases, allies of the U.S. – including France in related to film director and accused pedophile Roman Polanski, the U.K. with alleged copyright-infringing student Richard O'Dwyer and Iceland with chess champion and sanctions-violator Bobby Fischer – have refused American extradition attempts with the work of clever lawyers coupled with political controversy over the charges involved.
Ecuador granted Julian Assange, the leader of WikiLeaks, asylum in June 2012, but Assange – who is wanted for questioning in Sweden about two alleged sex crimes that began as consensual encounters – has been living in the Latin American country's U.K. embassy.
A look at recent statistics on extradition to the U.S., via Slate: