By Justin Sink
The White House on Monday called on Russian authorities to expel former Defense contractor Edward Snowden, who is responsible for leaking information about top-secret National Security Agency surveillance programs, after he fled to Moscow from Hong Kong to avoid extradition.
"We now understand Mr. Snowden is on Russian soil,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement.
Reports suggested the Russian government would not comply with the administration's request. The Washington Post reported that Russian officials said they had no way to legally detain Snowden.
Snowden arrived in Moscow on Sunday from Hong Kong, where he had sought refuge after disclosing classified information about the NSA’s surveillance of phone and Internet traffic.
The Hong Kong government maintained over the weekend that an American request to extradite the admitted leaker did not include enough information to legally detain Snowden or prevent him from leaving the country, despite federal charges of espionage and theft.
"We are disappointed by the decision of the authorities in Hong Kong to permit Mr. Snowden to flee despite the legally valid U.S. request to arrest him for purposes of his extradition under the U.S.-Hong Kong Surrender Agreement," Hayden said in the statement.
"We have registered our strong objections to the authorities in Hong Kong as well as to the Chinese government through diplomatic channels and noted that such behavior is detrimental to U.S.-Hong Kong and U.S.-China bilateral relations."
The Justice Department said that despite a call from Attorney General Eric Holder to his counterpart in Hong Kong, the former Booz Allen Hamilton employee was allowed to depart for Moscow.
At a press conference Monday morning in India, Secretary of State John Kerry said it would be "disappointing" if Russia and China had aided Snowden and warned of "consequences."
"There would be without any question some effect and impact on the relationship and consequences," Kerry said.
According to WikiLeaks, Snowden is seeking asylum in Ecuador — the nation that gave that organization's founder, Julian Assange, refuge in its London embassy.
The Obama administration has already asked Ecuador not to admit Snowden, and early Monday morning said they were pressing Russian authorities to intervene before Snowden attempted to leave Moscow.
The administration said Snowden's recent travel "suggests that his true motive throughout has been to injure the national security of the U.S., not to advance Internet freedom and free speech."
Snowden's immediate whereabouts were unknown Monday morning.
Reports said Snowden had been booked on a flight to Havana, but the plane departed without him aboard. Officials from Aeroflot confirmed to Reuters that Snowden was not on that flight.
The Russian news agency Interfax reported that Snowden may already have left Russia on a private flight, citing a “source familiar with Snowden’s situation."
Multiple media outlets have also reported that the U.S. government has revoked Snowden's passport.
The State Department on Sunday declined to confirm those reports, saying only that officials had been in contact with foreign nations to caution them that Snowden was wanted on felony charges and should only be allowed to travel to return to the U.S.
A senior administration official on Monday also echoed remarks by lawmakers over the weekend suggesting that Snowden's choice of sanctuaries undercut his argument that he was seeking a freer and more open society.
"Mr. Snowden's claim that he is focused on supporting transparency, freedom of the press and protection of individual rights and democracy is belied by the protectors he has potentially chosen: China, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador," the official said. "His failure to criticize these regimes suggests that his true motive throughout has been to injure the national security of the U.S., not to advance Internet freedom and free speech."
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told CBS News on Sunday she did not believe Snowden was a whistle-blower.
“Whatever his motives are — and I take him at face value — he could have stayed and faced the music. I don't think running is a noble thought,” she said.
This story was published at 12:28 a.m. and has been updated.