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Political interference

US requests for the extradition and arrest of Edward Snowden

On 9 June 2013 Edward Snowden revealed himself as the source of NSA documents published by the Guardian during an interview in a Hong Kong hotel room, his temporary place of residence. A US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia issued a criminal complaint five days later, charging Snowden with theft of government property and two other charges under the 1917 Espionage Act: “unauthorized communication of national defense information” and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person”.

After Snowden left Hong Kong for Russia on 23 June, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government issued a statement on their rejection of a provisional arrest warrant for Edward Snowden from the US on the grounds that it “did not fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law”.

Russia also rejected an extradition request (prior to granting him asylum) while Snowden was staying in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on the grounds that he had not crossed the border into Russia and that Russia and the US “have no bilateral agreement on extradition”. It subsequently emerged that the US had a jet waiting in Copenhagen to render Edward Snowden to the US, pending negotiations with Russia.

The US also sent extradition and arrest warrants to countries which Edward Snowden was not present in but he had sent requests for asylum.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro responded to an extradition request from the US saying that he would reject any extradition request for Snowden and that the US government “[does] not have the moral right to request the extradition of a young man who is only warning of the illegalities committed by the Pentagon and the CIA and the United States”. He further commented that the US is “simply disregarding bilateral agreements”.

Bolivia rejected an extradition request, with the Foreign Ministry commenting that the request was “strange, illegal, unfounded” as Edward Snowden was not present in the country.

Ireland rejected an arrest warrant, stating that the warrant failed to state where Snowden’s alleged offences took place.

It was also reported that Iceland received an extradition request.

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki further warned countries about allowing Edward Snowden to travel in a statement: “Persons wanted on felony charges, such as Mr Snowden, should not be allowed to proceed in any further international travel, other than is necessary to return him to the United States.”

Warnings, pressure and threats from US government officials

US warns Hong Kong of reprisals

While Edward Snowden was in Hong Kong the US requested his arrest and extradition. A senior White House official warned of future diplomatic reprisals, stating: “If Hong Kong doesn’t act soon, it will complicate our bilateral relations and raise questions about Hong Kong’s commitment to the rule of law.”

After Snowden left Hong Kong, White House press secretary Jay Carney stated that Hong Kong having allowed Snowden to board a flight “unquestionably has a negative impact on the US-China relationship”. He continued: “We see this as a setback in terms of their efforts to build mutual trust and our concerns are pretty clearly stated” and said that US authorities “did not buy” Hong Kong’s reasons for rejecting the extradition request.

US pressures Ecuador not to grant asylum

US Vice-President Joe Biden personally called Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa to urge him against granting asylum to Edward Snowden, who had already submitted asylum requests to Ecuador and other countries.

US Senator Robert Menendez, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned that should Ecuador offer asylum to Snowden, they would risk losing US trade benefits. In response, Ecuador renounced its trade benefits and offered the US$23 million a year to fund human rights education.

US condemns Russia for giving Snowden “propaganda platform”

While staying in Sheremetyevo International Airport, Edward Snowden held a press conference where he met with representatives from multiple human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. It was his first public appearance since his interview with Glenn Greenwald, published by the Guardian on 9 June 2013.

President Obama’s press secretary Jay Carney was quick to condemn the meeting, stating: “I would simply say that providing a propaganda platform for Mr Snowden runs counter to the Russian government’s previous declarations of Russia’s neutrality, and that they have no control over his presence in the airport.” On the attendence by human rights organisations, Carney commented: “Those groups do important work. But Mr Snowden is not a human rights activist or a dissident.”

Secrectary of State threatens Venezuela after it offers asylum to Snowden

Shortly after Venezuela agreed to offer asylum to Edward Snowden, US Secrectary of State John Kerry personally called Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua and threatened to ground any Venezuelan aircraft in US or NATO airspace over any suspicion of Snowden’s presence on board. He also said he would intensify the ongoing process of revoking US entry visas to those associated with the late Hugo Chavez and begin prosecuting Venezuelan politicians on allegations of drug-trafficking, money-laundering and other crimes. He further threatened to cut off fuel supplies, stating his awareness of Venezuela’s dependence on US oil.

Obama cancels meeting with Putin over Snowden

President Obama pulled out of a planned bilateral meeting in Moscow with President Putin in response to Russia granting asylum to Edward Snowden. The White House stated that other issues contributed to the decision but commented specifically on Snowden, saying: “Russia’s disappointing decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum was also a factor that we considered in assessing the current state of our bilateral relationship.” During an apperance on NBC’s Tonight Show President Obama commented directly on the issue, stating: “There have been times where [Russia slips] back into Cold War thinking and a Cold War mentality.”

US threatens Germany not to grant asylum

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has said that the US government threatened to “cut off” its intelligence sharing relationship with Germany if the country granted Edward Snowden asylum or safe passage.

Harassment of people and organisations associated with Snowden

Forced landing of Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane

During a flight home from Moscow, the Bolivian presidential plane carrying President Evo Morales was forced to reroute and land in Vienna over false rumours that Edward Snowden was on board. Prior to the incident, President Morales had stated he would consider granting asylum to Snowden. The flight was set for a refuelling stop in Lisbon, but had been denied airspace permission from France, Italy, Spain and Portugal, according to Bolivian Defence Minister Ruben Saavedra, who said France and Portugal cited “technical reasons“. The plane remained in Vienna for 14 hours while waiting for airspace approval from the four European nations. In the meantime, Austrian border police checked the plane, but Spain’s ambassador to Austria was denied access by President Morales.

This came shortly after President Obama stated during a press conference that he was “not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker”.

Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo stated that Spain and other European countries were told Snowden was aboard President Morales’ plane, but did not specify the source of the information: “They told us that the information was clear, that [Snowden] was inside.”

The US declined to comment on the incident. President Morales denounced the act, saying: “This was an open provocation toward a continent, not just a president. North American imperialism uses its people to terrify and intimidate us. I just want to say they will never frighten us because we are a people of dignity and sovereignty.”

UNASUR (Union of South American Countries) called an emergency meeting in relation to the incident. They issued a statement expressing solidarity with Bolivia and President Morales, while condemning the “unfriendly and unjustifiable” act and demanding an explanation. President Morales also filed a formal complaint to the United Nations.

Detention and investigation of Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda

David Miranda, partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald and a Brazilian citizen, was detained by UK authorities while in transit at Heathrow airport under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act of 2000. His electronics were confiscated, including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles. It was revealed at a later court hearing that Miranda was detained as part of a criminal investigation by the UK Home Office and Metropolitan Police under suspicion that he was transporting classified material. Miranda was returning from a trip to Berlin where he had visited filmmaker Laura Poitras.

During his nine-hour Terrorism Act detention, Miranda was denied access to his lawyers, as well as a translator. Brazilian officials and lawyers for the Guardian newspaper were also unable to obtain any information during that time.

In an interview Miranda said: “They were threatening me all the time and saying I would be put in jail if I didn’t co-operate. They treated me like I was a criminal or someone about to attack the UK… It was exhausting and frustrating, but I knew I wasn’t doing anything wrong.” He further stated: “It is clear why they took me. It’s because I’m Glenn’s partner. Because I went to Berlin. Because Laura lives there. So they think I have a big connection. But I don’t have a role. I don’t look at documents. I don’t even know if it was documents that I was carrying. It could have been for the movie that Laura is working on.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest stated that the US had received a “heads up” prior to the UK’s detainment of Miranda. However, they denied involvement in the actual decision.

A 2013 judicial review of the UK Government’s actions found that the use of Terrorism Act powers against journalists was lawful. More than two years later, the Court of Appeal found that the use of Schedule 7 against those carrying journalistic material constituted a breach of the UK’s international human rights obligations and asked the British Government to redraft the law to provide proper protections. The panel of three judges also recommended that the UK’s definition of terrorism be narrowed so as not to include legitimate freedom of expression that does not aim to coerce the government with violence.

WikiLeaks’ Sarah Harrison at risk

WikiLeaks journalist Sarah Harrison accompanied Edward Snowden from Hong Kong to Moscow and during his 39-day stay inside Sheremetyevo airport. Harrison remained with Snowden in order to protect his safety and security.

Government Accountability Project lawyer Jesselyn Radack noted the risks facing Harrison and other people associated with Edward Snowden. Harrison has also been advised by lawyers that she is at risk from both the US and UK due to her journalistic work with Snowden, and thus she is unable to return to the UK.

WikiLeaks’ publisher Julian Assange informally requested that Brazil grant asylum to Sarah Harrison due to the risks she is facing.

Destruction of the Guardian’s hard drives

Two GCHQ (the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters, equivalent to the US National Security Agency) officers oversaw the destruction of hard drives in the basement of the Guardian newspaper.

A senior UK government official had met with the Guardian’s editor Alan Rusbridger to demand the return or destruction of all material from Edward Snowden that the newspaper was working on. Rusbridger wrote that he had received a call “from the centre of the government” who told him: “You’ve had your fun. Now we want the stuff back.”

Rusbridger further stated that he allowed the “slightly pointless” destruction of the hard drives, as the Guardian was in possession of multiple digital copies outside Britain and thus able to continue publication.

Emails obtained by the Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act show that senior NSA officials were given advance notice of the destruction of the Guardian hard drives, which current deputy NSA director Richard Ledgett described as “good news”.