Venezuela Reportedly 'Most Likely' Asylum Option for Snowden
Venezuela is the "most likely" asylum choice for former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, the journalist who published the contents of the self-declared leaker's classified documents said Tuesday.
In an interview with Reuters shortly after speaking to Snowden by online chat on Tuesday, Glenn Greenwald said that Venezuela—one of three Latin American countries that have offered Snowden asylum—is the one most likely to guarantee his safety.
Nicaragua and Bolivia have also said they would accept Snowden but Venezuela is better poised "to get him safely from Moscow to Latin America and to protect him once he's there," Greenwald told Reuters. "They're a bigger country, a stronger country and a richer country with more leverage in international affairs."
Snowden, 30, is believed to be holed up in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport from where he has applied for asylum in more than 20 countries in a bid to avoid extradition to the U.S.
Even if Snowden agrees an asylum deal with Venezuela, travel problems could take time to resolve: His U.S. passport has been canceled and U.S. allies may deny airspace to any flight on which he is believed to be traveling.
Greenwald, a blogger and columnist for the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper, told Reuters he based his opinion on an "informed guess" after recent contacts with Snowden.
Greenwald added that a resolution to Snowden's situation could take "days or hours or weeks."
He was speaking from his home in Rio de Janeiro, having returned there from Hong Kong where he worked alongside Snowden, publishing reports that disclosed the vast scale of surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency on the telephone records of U.S. citizens.
Greenwald told Reuters that Snowden had Internet access in the airport transit zone—a diplomatic no man's land—and had been able to communicate with those seeking to help him.
He said Snowden's task was "figuring out how to get to the country that has offered him asylum" without coming within reach of the U.S., which Greenwald characterized as "the rogue, lawless empire that has proven itself willing to engage in rogue behavior to prevent him physically from getting there."
Venezuela confirmed Monday it had received Snowden's asylum request, but had no more information on whether a deal had been reached.
On Saturday, Venezuela's foreign minister Elias Jaua said: "We are waiting until Monday to know whether he confirms his wish to take asylum." That apparent deadline passed without further information from Caracas—or from the Venezuelan embassy in Moscow, which said it had no information on the case.
The paucity of asylum offers has led to speculation Snowden might seek to remain in Russia, creating a diplomatic headache for President Vladimir Putin who has already made clear he wants the leaker to move elsewhere.
Writing in Foreign Policy, Dmitri Trenin suggested Snowden's move to Moscow may have been a Russian attempt to snub the U.S. that had backfired.
"Where does the Snowden case leave us with respect to U.S.-Russian relations? Those Russian officials who were evidently involved in organizing Snowden's passage from Hong Kong to Latin America via Sheremetyevo probably sought to capitalize on the U.S. government's embarrassment in compensation for the recently increased U.S. and European criticism of the Kremlin's policies. The plan, however, went awry. By the time he reached Sheremetyevo, Snowden's U.S. passport had been revoked, and no promised travel documents from Ecuador had arrived. Russia, which had been meant to be a mere conduit in the operation, suddenly became Snowden's temporary home."
However, Steve Vladeck, professor of law at the American University Washington College of Law, said he thought the chances of Snowden being extradited to the United States were "basically going down by the day."
He said it appeared unlikely the Russians would turn Snowden over and "if he's able to successfully make it to a country like Venezuela … I think it's very unlikely that he ever ends up in a U.S. courtroom."
Vladeck said extradition was less about the law than international relations.
"The dirty little secret of U.S. extradition law is that 95 percent of it is political and really only 5 percent of it is law so the options that are on the table at this point are primarily diplomatic," he said.
"At the end of the day, no matter what the law is, there are so many ways to avoid extradition or facilitate extradition that the politics, what is most in the interest of the country at issue is really going to have a lot more to say about the end-game than anything that's written in an extradition treaty," he added.
Greenwald also told Reuters he is working through the remainder of Snowden's leaked documents and plans to write more stories in the coming months.
—By Alastair Jamieson, NBC News.