(Source: Reuters)
Sources say leaker has left Hong Kong

Edward Snowden, the man who let loose secrets on U.S. National Security Agency spying, has escaped the grasp of U.S. authorities bearing down on Hong Kong, flying on Sunday from Hong Kong, China to Moscow, Russia.  The flight comes just days after the self-proclaimed "whistleblower" was charged on two counts of espionage.

I. Icy Chinese Let Snowden Flee to Russia

On Friday U.S. authorties released a criminal complaint dated June 14, which formally charged Mr. Snowden with two offenses -- unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person.

Both charges fell under the auspice of the Espionage Act of 1917 (18 U.S.C. § 792).  The use of the Espionage Act is not terribly surprising -- the Obama administration has charged more than twice as many whistleblowers with Espionage Act offenses as all the previous administrations before him (since the Act was passed in 1917) combined.  Both charges carry 10 years in prison, for a maximum sentence (if served consecutively) of twenty years, plus fines.

But the question remains whether the U.S. will be able to catch Mr. Snowden who appears intent -- at least for now -- in avoiding extradition and U.S. charges.

Hong Kong
Hong Kong officials let Mr. Snowden fly to Moscow without detention. [Image Source: Reuters]

U.S. prosecutors failed to serve a provisional arrest warrant in the Chinese nation, according to Chinese officials.  Much to the Obama administration and its Congressional allies' chagrin, a Chinese government spokesperson wrote:

Mr Edward Snowden left Hong Kong today (June 23) on his own accord for a third country through a lawful and normal channel.

The US Government earlier on made a request to the HKSAR Government for the issue of a provisional warrant of arrest against Mr Snowden. Since the documents provided by the US Government did not fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law, the HKSAR Government has requested the US Government to provide additional information so that the Department of Justice could consider whether the US Government's request can meet the relevant legal conditions. As the HKSAR Government has yet to have sufficient information to process the request for provisional warrant of arrest, there is no legal basis to restrict Mr Snowden from leaving Hong Kong.

In a coincidentally timed editorial by the state-run Xinhua news agency, editor "Mengjie" attacks U.S. spying efforts, writing:

In the past few months, U.S. politicians and media outlets have thrown out Internet spying accusations one after another against China, trying to make it as one of the biggest perpetrators of Internet spying activities.

And those claims were even highlighted during a highly anticipated summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama held earlier this month in California, which had been designed to help the world's two biggest economies to build a new type of major power relations.

All this has seemed to go relatively well until the revelation of the U.S. National Security Agency's PRISM surveillance program.

According to Snowden, the U.S. government has engaged in wide-ranging dubious spying activities not only on its own citizens, but also on governmental, academic and business entities across the world.

After landing in Moscow, Mr. Snowden reportedly was picked up by the Ecuadorian ambassador.

II. Ecuador Confirms Asylum Request

Mr. Snowden has filed an asylum request, which Ecuador is considering, according to Ecuador's foreign minister:  
Currently Ecuador is providing asylum to Wikileaks executive editor Julian Assange, who is holed up at the Ecuadorian embassy in Britain.  The country has become a popular destination for foreign whistleblowers, due to its willingness to fight extradition requests.

Edward Snowden
Edward Snowden, NSA whistleblower [Image Source: Reuters]

It is thought that Mr. Snowden might reach to Ecuador by way of Cuba or Venezuela -- states which are hostile to U.S. requests.  However, early reports that he had boarded a plane to Cuba proved false.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney seemed optimistic that the Russians might prove more cooperative than the Chinese regardin extradition.  He's quoted as saying, "We have a strong co-operative relationship with the Russians on law enforcement matters.  We have known where he is and believe we know where he is now."

III. Republicans Attack Each Other Over Snowden Statements

Meanwhile as the mystery regarding Mr. Snowden's whereabouts grows, the leaks are exposing divisions in the Republican party, among those who largely embrace a common agenda with Democratic President Barack Obama, and those who represent a true counterpoint.

Rep. Peter King (R- N.Y.) -- a fiery critic of Mr. Snowden -- on Monday lashed out against colleague Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), commenting, "I think it is important for the American people to realize that this guy is a traitor, a defector, he’s not a hero.  And I heard Senator Rand Paul this morning actually compared Snowden to General Clapper. What’s happened to our country? This is a traitor, and for anyone to be comparing him to a U.S. military hero is absolutely disgraceful."

Also breaking is revelations concerning the Government Accountability Office's (GAO) "Boundless Informant" tool, which tracked NSA internet spying requests.  The tool's statistics, leaked by Mr. Snowden, reveal that the U.S. captured 97 billion pieces of information (including so called "metadata").  While much of this information was harvested in Iran (14 billion) and Pakistan (13.5 billion), a substantial portion (2.9 billion) was captured domestically.

IV. DNI -- Caught in a Lie to Congress?

The 2.9 billion seized messages in the U.S., do not include the data from seized telephone records (which is likely a much larger set).  Reportedly the U.S. is seizing 99 percent of telephone metadata, allowing it to track its citizens' locations on a daily basis and check up on who they're calling.  The information profiled by Boundless Informant includes seized emails and chat logs from "computer networks".

Boundless Informant
Boundless Informant reveals that the NSA has a pretty good idea how much spying is going on, even though it claims it doesn't. [Image Source: Guardian]

The information appears to expose that James Clapper, the director of national intelligence (DNI) lied to Congress.  Questioned by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) who asked, "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?"

Director Clapper responds, "No sir."

James Clapper
Director Clapper, seen here with President Obama, appears to have lied to Congress while under oath. [Image Source: AP]

Refusing to produce documents to Congress can lead to contempt of Congress charges (2 USC § 192), which carry a sentence of up to a year in jail, plus up to $1,000 USD in fines.  So far no charges have been raised against Mr. Clapper.

In response to the growing criticism, President Obama seemingly blamed Congress, saying only Congressional oversight can prevent abusive spying.  He comments, "These are the folks you all vote for as your representatives in Congress and they are being fully briefed on these programs."

Obama administration
Obama blames Congress for the spy programs. [Image Modifications: Jason Mick/DailyTech]
Ironically, though, members of Congress like Sens. Paul, Wyden, and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) have complained consistently about the NSA not providing them sufficient briefings.  In a letter last year to NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander, Sens. Wyden and Udall wrote, "the intelligence community has stated repeatedly that it is not possible to provide even a rough estimate of how many American communications have been collected under the Fisa Amendments Act, and has even declined to estimate the scale of this collection."

Ironically it appears that the agencies indeed had this information via Boundless Informant, but simply chose to lie to Congress to keep up their charade of ignorance.

Sources: South China Morning Post, Hong Kong [gov], Reuters, Guardian

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