WASHINGTON -- Edward Snowden, the fugitive American contractor who revealed details of the U.S. governments extensive spying network, so far has evaded capture by hop-scotching around the world with the help of nations that have their own beefs with the United States.
Lucky for him, there are plenty.
While they dont share Snowdens stated cause of government transparency, countries such as China, Russia and Ecuador all have extended him assistance in what analysts say is a rare chance for payback over unwelcome U.S. policies. Snowdens revelations that U.S. surveillance extended to foreign countries only adds to the willingness of nations to dismiss the Obama administrations demands for Snowdens immediate extradition to the United States, analysts said.
They really see this as an opportunity to poke a finger in the eye of the United States, said Ronak D. Desai, a specialist on U.S.-Asia relations with the Truman National Security Project, a leadership training institution in Washington. This gives them the ability to stand up to a giant and say, We dont have to do what you say.
Take the case of Hong Kong, the semi-autonomous Chinese territory that allowed Snowden to leave, reportedly for Russia, rather than hold him as U.S. authorities had demanded. Hong Kongs official announcement of Snowdens departure said there was no cause to hold him because U.S. documents did not fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law. But the statement ends with what could be the real reason Hong Kong and its administrators in Beijing looked the other way as Snowden fled.
Hong Kong, the statement said, has formally written to the U.S. government requesting clarification on earlier reports about the hacking of computer systems in Hong Kong by U.S. government agencies.
Snowden had claimed that U.S. spying extended to the territory a public relations boon for China after months of hearing U.S. government accusations of cyber attacks and espionage involving U.S. targets. Desai said that Snowdens shrewdness led to the surprise move of Hong Kong and, by extension, China letting him go. Asia observers at first had expected the territory to relent to U.S. demands.
One thing that he had going for him was that he was able to provide ostensibly substantive proof that the surveillance and cyber attacks go in both directions, Desai said. It was a public relations coup because China had been on the defensive for so long.
The State Department wasnt buying that Snowdens flight from Hong Kong was a matter of incomplete paperwork. Spokesman Patrick Ventrell, using unusually forceful terms for a diplomat, repeatedly called it a setback to U.S.-China relations and warned of unspecified consequences. Experts on the region said it remains to be seen how much of a chill this episode will cast over the so-called pivot to Asia that the Obama administration had hoped to execute after decades of being bogged down in the Middle East.
This was a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant, and that decision, as I said, unquestionably has a negative impact on the U.S.-China relationship, Ventrell told reporters Monday.