Things getting messy for Edward Snowden

23:44, Jul 02 2013

Bolivia said President Evo Morales' plane was forced to land in Austria after France and Portugal refused air permits, apparently because they suspected it was carrying Edward Snowden, the former US spy agency contractor wanted by Washington on espionage charges.

Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca furiously accused France and Portugal of putting Morales' life at risk and insisted that Snowden was not on Morales' plane.

Choquehuanca told reporters that Portugal and France had abruptly cancelled the air permits, forcing the unscheduled Vienna stopover as Morales was returning on a Bolivian government aircraft from Russia.

''They say it was due to technical issues, but after getting explanations from some authorities we found that there appeared to be some unfounded suspicions that Mr Snowden was on the plane... We don't know who invented this lie,'' he said.

''We want to express our displeasure because this has put the president's life at risk.''

While attending an energy conference in Russia this week, Morales said he would consider granting asylum to Snowden if requested.


Bolivian Defense Minister Ruben Saavedra said the US State Department may have been behind the decisions to not allow Morales' plane to land in Portugal or fly over French air space.

''We have the suspicion that they (the two European governments) were used by a foreign power, in this case the United States, as a way of intimidating the Bolivian state and President Evo Morales,'' he said.


It's getting messy for Edward Snowden - the more countries to which the mega-leaker of Washington's domestic and global espionage secrets applies for refuge, the more knockbacks he gets.

Throughout Tuesday, the rejections came thick and fast from the capitals to which the former contract systems administrator had applied for asylum on Monday. All but two out of 21 hung Snowden out to dry - only Venezuela and Bolivia seemed to offer him a chance to break free from the limbo of a Moscow transit lounge.

Speaking in Moscow, Venezuela's president Nicolas Madura argued that Snowden ''deserved the world's protection'' - but no, he had not yet received a formal asylum request from Snowden; and he was non-committal when asked if he might pile the 30-year-old fugitive into the presidential jet for the home-flight to Caracas.

But Madura talked the talk on Snowden's exploits - "We think this young person has done something very important for humanity, has done a favor to humanity, has spoken great truths to deconstruct a world ... that is controlled by an imperialist American elite," he was quoted in The Guardian.

"He did not kill anyone and he did not plant a bomb - he only said a big truth to prevent wars."

Evo Morales, president of Bolivia, indicated that Snowden would be welcome in La Paz - but he did not elaborate on the mechanics of the application process or the logistics of transferring Snowden to South America.

"Yes, why not," Morales said, according to media reports from Moscow.

"We're worried at the demeanour of countries such as USA."

The global rebuff would have been sobering for Snowden. No - Brazil, India, Norway and Poland; ''get onto our territory, and then we'll consider your application'' - Ecuador, Austria, Finland, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Switzerland; have not bothered to respond - China, Cuba, Iceland, Italy and Nicaragua.

Given that Snowden is now without travel documents - Washington has revoked his US passport and Ecuador has cancelled the emergency papers on which he travelled from Hong Kong to Moscow - the ''get onto our territory first'' responses amounted to polite rejections.

Given that Snowden is in Moscow, his circumstances might have become awkward for Moscow. But on Tuesday Snowden brought his thinking into line with that of President Vladimir Putin - because Putin has made a Russian refuge conditional on Snowden's silence in the future on American spying, Snowden withdrew his request to Moscow.

Moscow seemingly is happy for Snowden to sit it out at Sheremetyevo International Airport, arguing that the transit lounge does not constitute Russian territory, which would allow it to get on with its bigger-ticket agenda with a furious Washington, while small fry like Bolivia and Venezuela,  which thrive on the scratchiness of their relationship with the US, can take as long as they like to decide if they will shelter Snowden.

At the same time, the Russians keep repeating two things - one of which seems to be believed more than the other. First, they will not go into the transit lounge and snatch Snowden for the Americans; and second, their intelligence services are not trying to bleed Snowden or his four laptops of all they know and or contain.

The language of some US reporting on the Snowden case is intriguing. Tuesday's edition of The New York Times reports: "... the US has engaged an array of countries that have considered granting [Snowden] asylum, making clear that doing so would carry big costs."

Oddly, the word ''threat'' does not appear in such reports.