Former National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden has sought asylum in 21 countries, including India through Wikileaks legal advisor Sarah Harrison.
The request for asylum came just a few days after the Obama Administration warned other nations against giving shelter to Snowden or letting him travel, saying he is wanted on espionage charges.
WikiLeaks on Tuesday said in a statement that the asylum requests were delivered to an official at the Russian consulate at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow on Sunday evening. The documents, which outline the risks of persecution Snowden would face in the United States, are now being delivered to relevant embassies in Moscow.
Apart from Equador, requests for Asylum were sent to Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italian, Ireland, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, Swiss Confederation Venezuela, and Iceland.
It was reported that Snowden was supposed to fly to Ecuador on 24 June via Cuba and Venezuela for a possible asylum but it didn't happen for unknown reasons. Now, his hopes of getting asylum in Ecuador have been crushed with its president Rafael Correa saying they are not considering his request.
Snowden has been holed up at the transit zone of Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport ever since he arrived from Hong Kong on 23 June. The US has been trying to secure his extradition but Russia has said that it has no legal rights to arrest him.
Will India Give Asylum to Edward Snowden?
Like most countries that are keeping silent on US' efforts to bring back its former intelligence contractor, India may not consider Snowden's request.
The US is doing all it could to bring Snowden back to the country and try him on several charges, including espionage. It has even warned other countries not to provide shelter or allow free passage. Considering their desperation for his custody, those countries including India which share good relationship with the US may abstain from going against the warning.
External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid on Tuesday defended US surveillance programme, which could have even covered the Indian embassy in Washington saying "This is not scrutiny and access to actual messages. It is only a computer study and a computer analysis of patterns of calls."
The minister, who is in Brunei for the 11th ASEAN-India Foreign Ministers' Meeting, told reporters that he had no idea of Snowden's request for asylum.
"I wouldn't want to comment on something that is maybe just hearsay. We have given asylums in the past but we are not an open house for asylums since we have a very careful and objective policy," Khurshid told reporters.
Why US Wants Snowden So Badly?
US government officials see the 29-year-old former intelligence contractor as a potential threat to the country's national security.
The US intelligence community is worried as Snowden is suspected to have downloaded a lot of information about the country, including a technical roadmap of the surveillance network, supercomputer and clandestine spying resources. The stolen material could help other countries learn more about US' techniques of using electronics for spying. He could also have good knowledge of the country's human assets like spies overseas, safe houses and spying centers. US officials are worried if others will make use of his knowledge.
What Have Snowden Done?
The former intelligence contractor leaked secret documents of US surveillance programs that include seizing vast amounts of telephone and web information of internet users around the world under the NSA program known as PRISM. He said that he did it in public interest, claiming that the government officials intercepted internet content without legal safeguards.
Several politicians have called him a traitor but his supporters say he is a whistleblower. Federal prosecutors have charged him for theft of government property, leaking national defense information without security clearance and revealing classified information about communications intelligence. Each of the three charges carries a maximum of 10 years imprisonment.
Snowden's revelation sent thousands of internet and phone users into a state of shock and anger, as their personal data could have been accessed by the NSA under the PRISM program. Big internet and mobile firms like Google, Yahoo, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, YouTube, Skype, AOL, Paltalk etc are in the list of companies that took part in the controversial program.
Microsoft revealed that it received between 6,000 and 7,000 criminal and national security warrants, which could have affected between 31,000 and 32,000 accounts.
"We continue to believe that what we are permitted to publish continues to fall short of what is needed to help the community understand and debate these issues," Microsoft's vice president and deputy general counsel, John Frank said in a statement.
Yahoo revealed that it had allowed the access of its 12,000 to 13,000 users under the PRISM project in 18 months. Facebook revealed that 9,000 to 10,000 of its users' data have been compromised under the NSA program, while the figure released by Apple is 4,000-5,000.
However, the US authorities have blocked internet search giant, Google from revealing the figure though they have expressed their desire to release it like other companies.
The firms that participated in the PRISM program said that many requests for the access of its users' accounts were related to criminal inquiries rather than intelligence work.