WikiLeaks: Snowden makes expanded asylum requests

Tuesday - 7/2/2013, 4:17am EDT

FILE - This June 17, 2013 file photo shows President Barack Obama meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. President Barack Obama brushed aside sharp European criticism on Monday, suggesting all nations spy on each other, as the French and Germans expressed outrage over alleged U.S. eavesdropping on European Union diplomats. American analyst-turned-leaker Edward Snowden, believed to be stranded for the past week at Moscow’s international airport, applied for political asylum to remain in Russia. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

TOM RAUM
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, believed to be in legal limbo in the Moscow airport, is expanding his requests for asylum to another 19 countries, including China, according to WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group that has adopted Snowden and his cause, on Monday night posted a statement said to be from Snowden that slammed President Barack Obama for "using citizenship as a weapon."

"Although I am convicted of nothing, it has unilaterally revoked my passport, leaving me a stateless person," Snowden says in the statement. "Without any judicial order, the administration now seeks to stop me exercising a basic right. A right that belongs to everybody. The right to seek asylum.

"Their purpose is to frighten, not me, but those who would come after me."

WikiLeaks legal adviser Sarah Harrison delivered the requests for asylum to an official at the Russian consulate at the Moscow airport on Sunday, according to the website. WikiLeaks says some of the requests have already been delivered to the appropriate embassies.

The WikiLeaks statement said requests were made to China, Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, India and several European countries. Snowden had planned earlier to seek asylum in Ecuador and has requested asylum in Russia.

The asylum requests reported by WikiLeaks and the Snowden statement could not be independently authenticated.

Snowden, who has been on the run since releasing sensitive NSA documents, is believed to have been in Moscow airport's transit zone since his arrival from Hong Kong on June 23. The U.S. has annulled his passport, and Ecuador, where he had hoped to get asylum, has been giving mixed signals about offering him shelter.

After Snowden applied for political asylum to remain in Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters in Moscow that Snowden would have to stop leaking U.S. secrets if he wanted asylum there -- and he added that Snowden seemed unwilling to stop publishing leaks of classified material.

At the same time, Putin said he had no plans to turn over Snowden to the United States.

The expanded requests for asylum come as the Obama administration contends with European allies angry about the release of documents that alleged U.S. eavesdropping on European Union diplomats.

Obama, in an African news conference with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, said the U.S. would provide allies with information about new reports that the NSA had bugged EU offices in Washington, New York and Brussels. But he also suggested such activity by governments would hardly be unusual.

"We should stipulate that every intelligence service --not just ours, but every European intelligence service, every Asian intelligence service, wherever there's an intelligence service -- here's one thing that they're going to be doing: They're going to be trying to understand the world better, and what's going on in world capitals around the world," he said. "If that weren't the case, then there'd be no use for an intelligence service."

The latest issue concerns allegations, published in the German newsweekly Der Spiegel, of U.S. spying on European officials. French President Francois Hollande demanded Monday that the U.S. immediately stop any such eavesdropping and suggested the widening controversy could jeopardize next week's opening of trans-Atlantic trade talks between the United States and Europe.

"We cannot accept this kind of behavior from partners and allies," Hollande said on French television.

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin, "Eavesdropping on friends is unacceptable." He declared, "We're not in the Cold War anymore."

Even before the latest disclosures, talks at the upcoming free-trade sessions were expected to be fragile, with disagreements surfacing over which items should be covered in or excluded from an agreement. The United States has said there should be no exceptions. But France has called for exempting certain cultural products, and other Europeans do not appear eager to give up longtime agricultural subsidies.

Obama said the Europeans "are some of the closest allies that we have in the world." But he added: "I guarantee you that in European capitals, there are people who are interested in, if not what I had for breakfast, at least what my talking points might be should I end up meeting with their leaders. That's how intelligence services operate."

Nonetheless, Obama said he'd told his advisers to "evaluate everything that's being claimed" and promised to share the results with allies.

Meanwhile, the Interfax news agency said a Russian consular official has confirmed that Snowden had asked for asylum in Russia.

Interfax cited Kim Shevchenko, the duty officer at the Russian Foreign Ministry's consular office in Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, as saying that Snowden's representative, Harrison, handed over his request Sunday.