Government Internet Freedom

U.S. Officials Scrambled to Nab Snowden, Hoping He Would Take a Wrong Step. He Didn’t.

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While Edward Snowden was trapped in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport last year, U.S. officials were confronting their own dearth of options in the White House Situation Room. For weeks, senior officials from the FBI, the CIA, the State Department and other agencies assembled nearly every day in a desperate search for a way to apprehend the former intelligence contractor who had exposed the inner workings of American espionage then fled to Hong Kong before ending up in Moscow.

* White House homeland security has been making round after round of appeals to their Russian counterparts in hopes that Snowden made a misstep.

* U.S. officials thought they saw such an opening on July 2 when Bolivian President Evo Morales, who expressed support for Snowden, left Moscow aboard his presidential aircraft. The decision to divert that plane ended in embarrassment when it was searched in Vienna and Snowden was not aboard.

* The burst of activity during that period — including the White House meetings, a broad diplomatic scramble and the decision to force a foreign leader’s plane to land — was far more extensive than U.S. officials acknowledged at the time. Snowden has also fielded inquiries about book and movie projects.

* A year later, Snowden appears to have moved further beyond U.S. reach. His expiring asylum status in Russia is expected to be extended this summer.

* Several U.S. officials cited a complication to gathering intelligence on Snowden that could be seen as ironic: the fact that there has been no determination that he is an “agent of a foreign power,” a legal distinction required to make an American citizen a target of espionage overseas. If true, it means that the former CIA employee and National Security Agency contractor, who leaked thousands of classified files to expose what he considered rampant and illegal surveillance of U.S. citizens, is shielded at least to some extent from spying by his former employers.

Snowden’s critics and supporters do occupy a thin strand of common ground. They agree that Snowden is probably under nearly constant scrutiny by the FSB and lives a life that is constrained by his dependence on the government that granted him asylum.


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“U.S. Officials Scrambled to Nab Snowden, Hoping He Would Take a Wrong Step. He Didn’t.”