Mystery as fugitive Edward Snowden reportedly leaves Russia
Moscow: Ex-CIA analyst Edward Snowden on Monday continued his globe-trotting game of cat-and-mouse with US authorities on his tail, reportedly slipping out of Russia on his way to seek asylum in Latin America.
Snowden, who embarrassed US President Barack Obama's administration with his revelations of massive surveillance programmes, failed to appear on a flight he had apparently booked from Moscow to Cuba.
Russia's Interfax news agency, known for its strong security contacts, said he was likely already out of the country.
US Secretary of State John Kerry meanwhile dubbed Snowden a traitor to his country and warned both Russia and China that their relations with the US might be damaged by their refusal to extradite him.
Snowden arrived in Moscow yesterday from Hong Kong, from where he leaked to the media details of secret cyber-espionage programmes by both US and British intelligence agencies.
He was said by Russian officials to have spent the night in Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport awaiting his onward connection.
He had been expected to take Aeroflot's 1005 GMT flight today from Moscow to Havana after airline sources confirmed he had checked in.
But the flight left the terminal at Moscow Sheremetyevo airport -- with a pack of hopeful journalists on board -- and then took off with no sign that the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor was among the passengers.
Adding to the mystery, he was not once seen in public in the Moscow airport since yesterday's Aeroflot flight arrived from Hong Kong.
The Interfax news agency quoted a Russian security source and an Aeroflot source saying that he was not on board the flight to Havana.
It quoted another source familiar with the matter as saying: "Snowden, most likely, has already left the Russian Federation. He could have left by a different plane."
The IT contractor is the target of a US arrest warrant issued on Friday after he leaked details of the cyber-espionage programmes.
The leaks forced Obama's administration to defend US intelligence agencies' practice of gathering huge amounts of telephone and Internet data from private users around the world.
Ecuador has said it was studying a request Snowden had filed for asylum and he had been widely expected to fly on to Quito from Havana after arriving from Moscow.
He and his accompanying party Sarah Harrison, a British national working on the legal team of the anti-secrecy group Wikileaks, had been checked in on the flight SU 150 to Havana, according to an AFP correspondent who saw the flight roster.
Russian security sources said they had no reason to arrest Snowden, who officials described as an ordinary "transit passenger" who had not crossed the border.
Kerry said Monday it was "disappointing" that Snowden had been able to fly from Hong Kong to Russia, warning of consequences for ties with Moscow and Beijing.
Kerry, speaking on a visit to New Delhi, also defended the decision to seek Snowden's arrest, saying he was a traitor.
"He is an indicted individual, indicted on three felony counts," he said. "Evidently he places himself above the law having betrayed his country."
Ecuador Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino confirmed that the leftist Latin American country, whose embassy in London is already sheltering WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, was analysing Snowden's asylum request.
Ecuador's outspoken leftist President Rafael Correa has championed the cause of Assange and his allies, to the fury of the United States.
The US State Department has revoked Snowden's passport and asked other countries to prevent him from travelling. But a source in Russia's security agencies told Interfax that Snowden could travel without a passport.
The New York Times quoted Assange as saying his group had arranged for Snowden to travel via a "special refugee travel document" issued by Ecuador last Monday.
WikiLeaks, which had helped organise Snowden's escape from Hong Kong, blasted US "bullying" on their Twitter blog.
"US bullying Russia for Snowden's rendition is counter-productive. No self-respecting state would accept such unlawful demands," WikiLeaks said.
Snowden abandoned his high-paying job in Hawaii and went to Hong Kong on May 20 to begin issuing a series of leaks on the NSA gathering of phone call logs and Internet data, triggering concern from governments around the world.
Hong Kong, a special administrative region under Chinese rule that has maintained its own British-derived legal system, said it had informed Washington of Snowden's exit after determining that the documents provided by the US government did not fully comply with Hong Kong legal requirements.