Edward Snowden, who is facing espionage charges for leaking classified documents on National Security Agency surveillance programs, had his U.S. passport revoked before he boarded a flight for Russia, the Associated Press reports.
Snowden left Hong Kong, where he faced an extradition request from U.S. authorities for Moscow early Sunday morning and is seeking political asylum in Ecuador. The foreign minister of Ecuador confirmed on Twitter that the country had received a request for political asylum from Snowden.
A U.S. official told the AP that a country could overlook the former contractor's revoked passport if an airline or senior official in a country ordered that Snowden be allowed to travel.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki would not confirm that Snowden's passport was revoked.
"As is routine and consistent with US regulations, persons with felony arrest warrants are subject to having their passport revoked," said Psaki. "Such a revocation does not affect citizenship status.
"Persons wanted on felony charges, such as Mr. Snowden, should not be allowed to proceed in any further international travel, other than is necessary to return him to the United States. Because of the Privacy Act, we cannot comment on Mr. Snowden's passport specifically," she added.
A State Department official said that authorities had been in contact with other nations to caution them that Snowden was wanted on felony charges and should not be allowed to travel except to return to the U.S.
Snowden, a former Booz Allen Hamilton contractor, had been staying in Hong Kong to avert extradition to the United States. Hong Kong authorities on Sunday said they notified the U.S. that Snowden had boarded a flight to Russia and rejected an extradition request from the U.S. government that failed to meet their standards.
In a statement on its website, WikiLeaks said Snowden is being escorted by diplomats and WikiLeaks legal advisors to Ecuador. His request for asylum in Ecuador will be formally processed once he arrives in the country.
"The WikiLeaks legal team and I are interested in preserving Mr Snowden’s rights and protecting him as a person," said Baltasar Garzon, a former Spanish judge and legal director of WikiLeaks. "What is being done to Mr. Snowden and to Mr. Julian Assange —for making or facilitating disclosures in the public interest—is an assault against the people."
Reports on Sunday said that President Obama had been briefed on Snowden’s flight.
Snowden’s move also sparked congressional anger, with lawmakers vowing repercussions if Russian authorities protected him.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Sunday that he believed Russian leader Vladimir Putin had personally approved Snowden’s flight to Moscow and warning of “serious consequences” to bilateral relations.
Schumer called it “infuriating” to see Putin “abetting Snowden’s escape.”
This story was last updated at 4:59 p.m.