By Carol Cratty
Edward Snowden appears likely to stay out of reach of U.S. officials even if the Russian government gives the self-avowed intelligence leaker papers to leave.
Snowden has been holed up in the transit lounge of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport for weeks, having flown there from Hong Kong in June after admittedly detailing top-secret National Security Agency electronic surveillance programs to media outlets.
He has applied for temporary asylum in Russia, and his lawyer said on Wednesday that he may be able to leave the airport within days.
If that happens, it’s not clear if Russia will meet his request. Snowden has said he wants to stay while awaiting passage to Latin America.
The United States has charged the former NSA contractor with espionage and has said numerous times he does not have valid travel documents because his passport is revoked. Washington has asked Moscow to expel him.
But so far, that hasn’t happened and capturing him is complex business. Snowden appears likely to try to avoid the chance of U.S. capture even if Russia grants him papers to leave.
The United States has no extradition agreement with Russia and while FBI Director Robert Mueller has been in contact with his counterparts in Moscow, federal agents in the American Embassy have no authority to make arrests.
If Snowden tries to leave Russia, the United States will carefully watch the route he takes if he tries to reach one of the Latin American countries willing to take him in.
The presidents of Venezuela and Bolivia have said their countries would give Snowden asylum, and Nicaragua's president said he would offer it "if circumstances permit."
The United States could grab Snowden if any plane carrying him were to refuel in a country that respects U.S. arrest warrants. But he likely will be careful to avoid that scenario.
Nevertheless, the United States has sent provisional arrest warrants to a number of countries where Snowden could either transit or seek asylum, a U.S. official said last week.