WASHINGTON - The U.S. grasped for help Monday from both adversaries and uneasy allies in an effort to catch fugitive National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden. The White House demanded that he be denied asylum, blasted China for letting him go and urged Russia to "do the right thing" and send him back to America to face espionage charges.
Snowden was believed to be in Russia, where he fled Sunday after weeks of hiding out in Hong Kong following his disclosure of the broad scope of two highly classified counterterror surveillance programs to two newspapers. The programs collect vast amounts of Americans' phone records and worldwide online data in the name of national security.
Snowden had flown from Hong Kong to Russia, and was expected to fly early Monday to Havana, from where he would continue on to Ecuador, where he has applied for asylum. But he didn't get on that plane and his exact whereabouts were unclear.
Light shines through a cabin window on seat 17A, the empty seat that an Aeroflot official said was booked in the name of former CIA technician Edward Snowden, shortly before Aeroflot flight SU150 takes off from Moscow to Havana, Cuba,
The founder of WikiLeaks, the secret-spilling organization that has embraced Snowden, said the American was only passing through Russia on his way to an unnamed destination to avoid the reach of U.S. authorities. Julian Assange said Snowden had applied for asylum in Ecuador, Iceland and possibly other countries.
Despite its diplomatic tough talk, the U.S. faces considerable difficulty in securing cooperation on Snowden from nations with whom it has chilly relations.
The White House said Hong Kong's refusal to detain Snowden had "unquestionably" hurt relations between the United States and China. While Hong Kong has a high degree of autonomy from the rest of China, experts said Beijing probably orchestrated Snowden's exit in an effort to remove an irritant in Sino-U.S. relations. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping met earlier this month in California to smooth over rough patches in the countries' relationship, including allegations of hacking into each other's computer systems.
Secretary of State John Kerry urged Moscow to "do the right thing" amid high-level pressure on Russia to turn over Snowden.
"We're following all the appropriate legal channels and working with various other countries to make sure that the rule of law is observed," Obama told reporters when asked if he was confident that Russia would expel Snowden.
Obama's spokesman, Jay Carney, said the U.S. was expecting the Russians "to look at the options available to them to expel Mr. Snowden back to the United States to face justice for the crimes with which he is charged."
Snowden has acknowledged revealing details of top-secret surveillance programs that sweep up millions of phone and Internet records daily.