NSA leaker Snowden lands in Moscow, seeks asylum in Ecuador

Edward Snowden, the former contractor who leaked classified information detailing the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance programs, left Hong Kong for Russia on Sunday despite a U.S. extradition request and is seeking asylum in Ecuador.

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Snowden arrived in Moscow on a flight Sunday, but his immediate whereabouts were unclear.

The foreign minister of Ecuador tweeted that his government had received a request for political asylum from the admitted leaker. 

“The Government of Ecuador has received an asylum request from Edward J. #Snowden,” read the tweet.

Hong Kong authorities said Sunday they had notified the U.S. that Snowden had departed the city on a flight to Moscow, possibly en route to a third country, rejecting an extradition request they said failed to meet their legal standards.

Snowden’s flight to avoid apprehension sparked anger from congressional lawmakers, who have pressed the administration to punish him for his disclosures of classified information.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that he believed Russian leader Vladimir Putin had personally approved Snowden’s travel to Moscow and warned of “serious consequences” to bilateral relations.

“What’s infuriating here is Prime Minister [Vladimir] Putin of Russia abetting Snowden’s escape,” said Schumer on CNN on Sunday.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) urged law enforcement to chase Snowden to “the ends of the earth.”

Initial reports suggested that Snowden was considering seeking asylum from Cuba or Venezuela.

"The freedom trail is not exactly China, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela. So I hope we'll chase him to the ends of the earth, bring him to justice and let the Russians know there will be consequences if they harbor this guy," Graham said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) warned that Snowden could have carried additional damaging information with him to Russia.

“We need to know exactly what he has. He could have a lot, lot more. It may really put people in jeopardy,” Feinstein said of the admitted leaker.

The website Wikileaks, which three years ago posted classified U.S. diplomatic cables and has been a defender of Snowden, said in a statement that he had "left Hong Kong legally" and that the organization had provided him with legal advisers to help him secure asylum in a third country.

“He is bound for a democratic nation via a safe route for the purposes of asylum, and is being escorted by diplomats and legal advisors from WikiLeaks,” said the statement.

“Mr Snowden requested that WikiLeaks use its legal expertise and experience to secure his safety. Once Mr Snowden arrives at his final destination his request will be formally processed.”

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for the past year after he received asylum, seeking to avoid extradition to Sweden where he has been charged with sexual assault.

The move to allow Snowden to leave Hong Kong for Moscow is likely to anger the Obama administration and complicate relations with China, Russia and Ecuador.

Officials on Saturday presented their extradition request to the Hong Kong government and expressed confidence that authorities would turn over the former Booz Allen employee.

Snowden was charged with espionage and theft of government property in a federal court in Virginia on Saturday. He faces up to 30 years in prison.

"Hong Kong has been a historically good partner of the United States in law enforcement matters, and we expect them to comply with the treaty in this case," said National Security Adviser Tom Donilon in an interview on Saturday.

But that appeal was denied, with Hong Kong authorities demanding more information from the U.S.

"Since the documents provided by the U.S. government did not fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law, the HKSAR government has requested the U.S. government to provide additional information,” said a statement from Hong Kong authorities to Reuters.

“As the HKSAR government has yet to have sufficient information to process the request for provisional warrant of arrest, there is no legal basis to restrict Mr. Snowden from leaving Hong Kong," the statement added.

The Justice Department (DOJ) confirmed on Sunday that they were notified of Snowden’s departure from Hong Kong. 

“We will continue to discuss this matter with Hong Kong and pursue relevant law enforcement cooperation with other countries where Mr. Snowden may be attempting to travel,” said DOJ spokesperson Nanda Chitre, according to reports.

Snowden earlier this month revealed details about the NSA’s phone and online surveillance, including a program, PRISM, which gathered intelligence on foreign internet users.

President Obama has defended the programs, saying they helped thwart numerous terror plots and saved lives.

Snowden admitted to leaking the information in a video interview with the Guardian, and said he sought refuge in Hong Kong because of its tradition of free speech. But his decision to head to China as well as his claims that the U.S. was spying on Chinese students led lawmakers to question his motives.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) blasted Snowden as a “traitor” and the heads of the Senate and House Intelligence committees called for him to be prosecuted for disclosing classified information.

This story was posted at 5:40 a.m. and has been updated.

Alexander Bolton and Jennifer Martinez contributed.