Edward Snowden and his supporters may be anxious to have his residency situation resolved as soon as possible, but not the only country to which he’s applied for asylum. Ecuador, which granted political asylum to Wikileaks founder and Snowden ally Julian Assange, said today that they won’t be rushed into making a decision. Snowden, who is waiting in the transition area in Moscow’s airport, may need to stay there a while:
Ecuador’s foreign minister said Wednesday his government could take months to decide whether to grant asylum to fugitive U.S. National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.
Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino compared Snowden’s case to that of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been given asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.
“It took us two months to make a decision in the case of Assange, so do not expect us to make a decision sooner this time,” Patino told a news conference during a visit to Malaysia’s main city, Kuala Lumpur.
WikiLeaks spokespersons have said Ecuador is for the moment the only place Snowden has officially applied to for asylum from U.S. prosecution.
Actually, the clock may not even be ticking yet:
Asked if Ecuador would provide protection to Snowden while considering his request for asylum, Patino said through a translator that if Snowden “goes to the embassy, then we will make a decision.”
That’s a problem for Snowden. So far, Russia has parried US demands to extradite Snowden on the basis that he hasn’t officially entered the country yet. Even if he did, though, the US and Russia don’t have an extradition treaty in place. Besides, Vladimir Putin is having far too much fun at the Obama administration’s expense, although the New York Times reports that he’s getting tired of the rhetoric, as Putin explained with a colorful metaphor:
But while American officials remained angry at China for letting Mr. Snowden fly to Moscow, they and their Russian counterparts toned down the red-hot language that threatened a deeper rupture in relations. Mr. Putin said he saw little to gain in the conflict. “It’s like shearing a piglet,” he said. “There’s a lot of squealing and very little wool.” Some American officials interpreted the comment as a positive signal and speculated that Mr. Snowden would be sent to another country that could turn him over.
Realistically, the Russians could seize him in the airport if they desired, but it might be a little embarrassing for Putin to do so now after he and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stood on the technicality for the last couple of days. If Snowden officially enters Russia — which he would need to do in order to get to the Ecuadorian embassy — then all bets are off. However, even that’s problematic, as his American passport is no longer valid.
Ecuador could supply him with a new passport, of course, but they’d have to do that before he got to the embassy. It doesn’t sound as though Ecuador is in any rush to do that, even if it would make Snowden feel a little more at home in Ecuador if he arrives there at all. And if he does, Snowden might feel more at home than he thinks, as Rosie Gray reported yesterday for BuzzFeed:
The intelligence agency of Ecuador appears to have sought in recent months to obtain new equipment for a large-scale surveillance, according to confidential government documents obtained by BuzzFeed.
The capabilities sought by Ecuador resemble the National Security Agency practices revealed by Edward Snowden, who is reportedly seeking asylum in the left-leaning Latin American republic.
The Ecuadorian documents — stamped “Secret” — obtained by BuzzFeed appear to show the government purchasing a “GSM Interceptor” system, among other domestic spying tools, and they suggest a commitment to domestic surveillance that rivals the practices by the United States’ National Security Agency that are at the center of a fierce national debate. They include both covert surveillance capacities and the targeting of President Rafael Correa’s enemies on social media. According to the files, SENAIN keeps close tabs on the Facebook and Twitter accounts of journalists, opposition politicians and other individuals, some with few followers.
Ecuador also wants to get some drones:
The documents were provided to BuzzFeed from inside SENAIN through activists who wished to call attention to the government’s spying practices in the context of its new international role. The sources who provided the documents on the condition of anonymity, citing the dangers of attempting to publicize them domestically.
They also suggest that the Ecuadorians sought to buy drones. Smart Solution proposed two surveillance systems to SENAIN, one called the “Semi Active GSM Interceptor System” and the other called a “Passive Surveillance System. ”
Why does Ecuador need drones? They haven’t deployed military forces outside of Ecuador and aren’t helping to fight the war on terror abroad. The assumption would be that the government wants to use them for domestic surveillance. We’ll look forward to Snowden’s exposé within a few months of his arrival.