Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Snowden's Destination Remains Unclear

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Snowden's Destination Remains Unclear

Article excerpt

MOSCOW -- President Barack Obama sought Thursday to minimize the significance of a fugitive former national security contractor wanted for leaking government secrets, calling him a "29-year-old hacker" and suggesting that U.S. frustration with China and Russia for apparently helping him evade extradition was not worth damaging relations with those countries.

Mr. Obama's remarks -- his most extensive comments on the fugitive, Edward J. Snowden -- came as new confusion swirled over Mr. Snowden's ultimate destination, with Ecuador's government issuing conflicting information over whether it had given him an authorized document of safe passage to travel to that country, where he is seeking asylum.

Mr. Snowden, who turned 30 last week, has been ensconced out of sight at a Moscow airport international transit lounge since Sunday, when he arrived from Hong Kong despite a U.S. effort to extradite him on criminal charges. There had been speculation that he would board a Havana-bound flight Thursday, but he did not -- raising the possibility that his legal limbo could stretch into weeks in his odyssey to reach a third country.

Mr. Obama, speaking to reporters in Dakar, Senegal, at the start of a trip to Africa, said he had not called the presidents of China or Russia on the Snowden case, because he did not want to elevate its importance. He said other nations should simply be willing to return Mr. Snowden to the United States as a matter of law enforcement.

"This is something that routinely is dealt with," Mr. Obama said. "This is not exceptional from a legal perspective. I'm not going to have one case suddenly being elevated to the point where I have to do wheeling and dealing and trading."

He rejected the suggestion that he might order the military to intercept any plane that might be carrying Mr. Snowden. "I'm not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker," the president said.

Mr. Snowden's disclosures of U.S. surveillance abroad have embarrassed the administration and raised debate about the government's invasion of privacy. Mr. Snowden and his supporters, including WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group, have called him a whistle-blower and a hero. …

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