Hong Kong’s decision to allow Edward Snowden to board a flight to Russia “unquestionably has a negative impact on the U.S.-China relationship,” the White House said Monday.
White House press secretary Jay Carney offered a blistering statement at his press briefing, saying the U.S. didn’t believe Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous government allowed the man accused of leaking national security secrets to the media on a technicality.
Carney said officials in Hong Kong had “plenty of time” to resolve questions about the warrant for Snowden's arrest, calling the decision to let him go a “deliberate choice.”
U.S. authorities are “just not buying that this was a technical decision,” he said.
The decision to allow Snowden to leave was "particularly troubling" because Chinese authorities raised no technical red flags about the initial extradition request, Carney said.
Snowden, who has admitted to releasing details about a pair of top-secret National Security Agency surveillance programs, 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. He is reportedly seeking asylum in Ecuador — the nation that gave WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, refuge in its London embassy.
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.
But Carney said the charges against Snowden “complied with all the requirements of the U.S.-Hong Kong surrender agreement” said Hong Kong authorities had “plenty of time” to act.
Officials at the State Department, Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation had all reached out to their counterparts in Hong Kong in hopes of securing extradition of the 30-year-old Defense contractor back to the United States.
Carney also confirmed that Attorney General Eric HolderEric H. HolderUber donates M to supporting minorities in tech Overnight Tech: Senate moving to kill FCC's internet privacy rules | Bill Gates pushes for foreign aid | Verizon, AT&T pull Google ads | Q&A with IBM's VP for cyber threat intel Uber leadership sticking by CEO MORE had reached out to authorities in Hong Kong, but would not say if President Obama had attempted to intervene — nor would he confirm whether the president had reached out to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
It is unclear what role China may have played in Hong Kong’s decision. The nation is a part of China but has a semi-autonomous government. The U.S. and China had exchanged accusations of cyber spying even before the Snowden affair exploded into the news.
Carney avoided any criticism of Russia’s government, while reiterating earlier calls that it expel Snowden and send him back to the U.S.
“We do expect the Russian government to look at all the options to them to expel Mr. Snowden back to the United States,” Carney said.
Carney would not get into the specifics of exactly where Snowden was, though he said, "It is our understanding that he's still in Russia."
He said Obama was receiving regular updates on the unfolding events.
The White House has been in touch with Ecuador and other countries that Snowden might travel through or see as a final destination, Carney said. It has urged those countries not to admit him.
"Obviously, Ecuador has been a speculated-about location," Carney said, although the spokesman refused to detail how the government there had responded to the U.S. request.
"The U.S. is advising these governments that Mr. Snowden is wanted on felony charges and should be not allowed to proceed with any travel."
Carney also said that Snowden's rumored travel through authoritarian countries was evidence that his "true motive has been to injure the national security" of the United States.
This story was updated at 1:29 p.m.