By Jill Dougherty
Obama administration officials, including the head of the FBI, have been burning up the phone lines to Moscow, urging the government of President Vladimir Putin to arrest Edward Snowden and send him to the United States to face espionage charges.
The last thing they want is a repeat of what happened in Hong Kong, when the admitted leaker of national security surveillance programs was able to fly to Moscow on Sunday.
Some critics call the episode a blunder by the administration.
They point to the time line:
On June 14, with Snowden believed to be hiding in Hong Kong, the Justice Department filed sealed charges. The next day, the United States requested the Hong Kong government to provisionally arrest him for purposes of extradition. But the State Department did not revoke his passport until almost a week later - although it stresses it did it before he left Hong Kong.
Snowden was allowed to board a plane to Moscow as Hong Kong authorities told the United States they needed more documentation from Washington.
Justice Department officials, however, say there was no indication from Hong Kong until the last minute that anything was missing or amiss.
In an interview with CNN, Secretary of State John Kerry denied the administration misstepped, saying Snowden had been charged in a complaint that was under seal.
Some legal experts argue, however, that even though the State Department normally is not told about indictments or complaints under seal, this was not a normal case.
"Why didn't the Department of Justice notify State in advance? They will likely say because they did not see a problem coming," says CNN National Security Analyst Fran Townsend. "I'd suggest that's not a good enough answer given the importance of the case."
The United States also did not ask Interpol to issue a red notice to arrest Snowden.
A Justice Department official said a red notice is sent when a fugitive's location is unknown. In this case, it was clear that Snowden was in Hong Kong.
A furious White House said on Monday that Hong Kong and Beijing knew exactly what they were doing in allowing Snowden to board a flight to Moscow.
"We are just not buying that this was a technical decision by a Hong Kong immigration official," said spokesman Jay Carney. "This was a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant and that decision unquestionably has a negative impact on the U.S. China relationship."
The State Department is warning of consequences, but is not saying what those might be.
"If we can't count on them to honor a legal extradition treaty, then there's a significant problem. So this is something we're raising very directly with the Chinese," spokesman Patrick Ventrell said.
Douglas Paal, a China expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, tells CNN that retaliation against Beijing or Hong Kong could be "counterproductive at best," given the economic relationship with China as well as pressing international issues like Syria.
The Obama administration also doesn't have much leverage with Moscow, says Matthew Rojansky of the Carnegie Endowment.
"Anything we do is likely to perpetuate one of these negative cycles where we suspend some kind of cooperation and the Russians ... responds disproportionately so it hurts the United States more. We really need Russian cooperation, I think, much more in most areas than the Russians need us," he said.
"We saw the results with the Boston bombing," he added. "We saw the difficulty that that put us in in Afghanistan. We see the difficulty that this puts us in right now in Syria, potentially dealing with Iran. We really need Russian support on a lot of these problems, because they're problems for America."