As it happened: Spy-leaker Snowden seeks refuge

Key Points

  • Ex-CIA employee Edward Snowden has arrived in the Russian capital, Moscow, from Hong Kong, where he was in hiding
  • Mr Snowden has asked Ecuador for political asylum, the country's foreign minister confirms
  • Mr Snowden is wanted in the US for leaking details of the government's programme of widespread internet and telephone surveillance
  • Washington was trying to extradite Mr Snowden on charges of espionage but Hong Kong said it had not met the requirements
  • Whistleblowing site Wikileaks said it was helping Mr Snowden find "political asylum in a democratic country"
  • All times in BST (GMT+1)

    Welcome to our live coverage of events, as it emerges that Edward Snowden, who leaked to the world details of widespread US government internet and telephone surveillance, has flown out of Hong Kong.


    Mr Snowden has been in Hong Kong since earlier this month, from where he spoke to the Guardian newspaper about the extent of the the surveillance.


    The information he leaked led to revelations that the US is systematically seizing vast amounts of phone and web data under a National Security Agency (NSA) programme known as Prism.


    Mr Snowden's plane is expected to land soon in the Russian capital, Moscow - the scheduled arrival time is 17:00 local time (13:00 GMT).


    But he is not expected to stay in Moscow for long - Russian media have quoted airline Aeroflot as saying he will fly on to Cuba and then to Venezuela.


    Washington had been trying to extradite Mr Snowden from Hong Kong - he has been charged in the Us with theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defence information and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence.


    For more on who Edward Snowden is and how he came to be in this position, see our full profile of the IT expert.

    Edward Snowden in Hong Kong
    1348: Juliana Liu Hong Kong correspondent, BBC News

    "Mr Snowden's departure from Hong Kong was an unexpected turn of events. He had previously said he intended to stay in the city and fight against deportation to the US through the local courts."

    1349: Juliana Liu Hong Kong correspondent, BBC News

    "His leaving removes a major diplomatic headache for the Hong Kong leadership, who were faced with the prospect of a prolonged legal battle."


    Aeroflot flight SU213 is about to land in Moscow - Edward Snowden is widely believed to be on board.


    Simon Young, law professor at the University of Hong Kong, told the BBC the US is likely to be "irate" with the territory's authorities for letting him leave, but that it is "no surprise" he did choose to go.


    Prof Young said Mr Snowden's situation "would have changed drastically" with the issue of a US arrest warrant.


    The US Dept of Justice said in a statement it had been "informed by the Hong Kong authorities Mr Snowden has departed Hong Kong for a third country".


    "We will continue to discuss this matter with Hong Kong and pursue relevant law enforcement co-operation with other countries where Mr Snowden may be attempting to travel," said spokeswoman Nanda Chitre.


    According to the documents leaked by Edward Snowden, Prism gave the US government access to servers of nine firms including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, Skype and Apple. This backgrounder explains more. about what authorities could learn about you online.


    The Russia 24 TV channel has said Mr Snowden does not have a Russian visa, so will stay in the airport overnight before, the channel says, flying to Cuba on Monday.

    1406: Daniel Sandford BBC News, Moscow airport

    "You have to look at the world as a river that Edward Snowden is trying to cross to get to safety, and the countries are stepping stones, places where he won't be arrested by the US."

    Ann Marie Kinninmont, Balfron, Scotland

    emails: Thank God for people like Edward Snowden and why isn't our Government and media, except the Guardian, as outraged as I am about this Prism being secretly used by the secret service in the UK?

    Tyler Chester, USA

    emails: He is a traitor to the United States. He had no legal right to leak classified documents whether or not he thought it was wrong. If I oppose nuclear weapons, does that give me the right to leak their locations or codes?

    Irina Galushko

    at Moscow airport tweets: Waiting for #Snowden - a crowd of journos and confused passengers

    1410: Breaking News

    The plane believed to be carrying Edward Snowden has landed in Moscow, says airport.


    Whistleblowing site Wikileaks says Mr Snowden is being accompanied on his journey by one of its legal team, British journalist Sarah Harrison. She has "courageously assisted Mr Snowden with his lawful departure from Hong Kong", the group said.

    John Stratford, Chester, England

    emails: Rightly or wrongly everyone spies on everyone else - including their allies. It's hypocritical to pretend otherwise. Simply having an intelligence service insures this to be true.

    1424: Jonathan Marcus BBC diplomatic correspondent

    "This whole episode is hugely embarrassing for Washington in the light it throws on the US intelligence agencies' extensive and intrusive monitoring activities. It comes at a time when the US is trying to castigate China for what it claims is massive and systematic hacking into US computer systems. Now the boot is very much on the other foot."


    We also have a full news story on Edward Snowden's departure from Hong Kong, on the main BBC News website.

    Tasaga Charles, Kla, Uganda

    emails: I believe Snowden has a case to answer and should be extradited.


    The SU213 flight from Hong Kong landed just after 17:00 Moscow time (13:00 GMT), as seen on this arrivals monitor:

    Arrivals monitor at Sheremetyevo airport showing SU213 flight from Hong Kong landing

    The latest allegation in the Snowden case, published in the South China Morning Post, is that the US hacked into computers and servers at China's prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing.


    China, which has repeatedly been accused by the US of carrying out hacking and cyber attacks, reacted furiously. State news agency Xinhua said the disclosures showed the US was "the biggest villain in our age".


    Several countries have been named as a possible final destination for Mr Snowden, including Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador. Russian news service Ria Novosti has just reported that an Ecuadorean embassy car is waiting at Terminal F, where the plane he is thought to be on has landed.


    Passengers on the flight did not experience any inconvenience or delays to their journey, Russia 24 reports. Their correspondent suggests Mr Snowden probably flew in business class.


    Most passengers have now left the plane, but there is as yet no sign of the US fugitive, says the channel.

    Christopher-Michael, Cardiff

    tweets: I think Snowden should be praised not hunted, all he did is tell the truth about corrupt government activity.


    Hong Kong had said it had no legal basis to keep Mr Snowden in the territory, because the extradition documents submitted by the US did not "fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law".

    Abhay Joshi, India

    emails: Snowden has rendered an invaluable service to the entire world by exposing the true face of the US. While preaching about democracy, freedom and human rights to the rest of the world it has shown complete disregard for these values in the name of defending democracy from terrorism.


    US Senator Chuck Shumer told CNN's State of the Union programme he had "a feeling the hand of Beijing was involved" in Mr Snowden's flight from Hong Kong, and that Russian President Vladimir Putin was "aiding and abetting Snowden's escape".


    "Allies are supposed to treat each other in decent ways, and Putin always seems almost eager to put a finger in the eye of the United States, whether it is Syria, Iran and now, of course, with Snowden", said Mr Shumer. "I think it'll have serious consequences for the United States-Russia relationship."


    This was the scene a few moments ago in the departure lounge at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport.

    Departure line, Sheremetyevo airport
    Daniel Sandford BBC News, Moscow airport

    says Mr Snowden appears to be choosing countries which have poor relations with the US and are sympathetic to the surveillance disclosure. There is no direct information on who is with him on the plane, but it is possible that he is being advised by Wikileaks.

    Steve M, UK

    tweets: Gorging on Snowden story now it's become fugitive-on-the-run. Shame same focus not afforded the actual scandals themselves.


    The head of the NSA, Keith Alexander told ABC News there were no "noble motives" behind the Snowden leak. He said new systems were being put in place "that would give us the ability to track our system administrators, what they doing, what they are taking."


    Russia Today is reporting that Mr Snowden has been examined by an Ecuadorean doctor at the airport - there is no independent confirmation of this.


    Wikileaks released a statement earlier from controversial Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon, who heads the group's legal team, saying he and his colleagues were "interested in preserving Mr Snowden's rights and protecting him as a person".


    "What is being done to Mr Snowden and to Mr Julian Assange - for making or facilitating disclosures in the public interest - is an assault against the people," said the statement.


    US analyst Richard Haas has told ABC News' This Week programme that the idea Hong Kong acted independently in letting Mr Snowden go was "inconceivable" #ThisWeek

    Peter Vernon, Eagle Heights, Australia

    emails: Good on him, the free world salutes you. In the meantime absolutely riveting stuff to follow, leaves the best of James Bond stuff for dead.


    China's Foreign Ministry has released a statement on Mr Snowden's departure from Hong Kong, saying it had "noted relevant reports but are not aware of the specifics". It adds that "the central government always respects the HKSAR [Hong Kong Special Administrative Region] government's handling of affairs in accordance with law."


    The statement adds that China is "gravely concerned" about reports of US spying on the Chinese government. "It shows once again that China falls victim to cyber attacks. We have made representations with the US."

    Ian W, West Sussex

    emails: This is a very brave man who presumably knew that he was going to have to leave his homeland if he went public. Kind of makes you believe he is telling the truth and which case the world's press is duty bound to investigate. Another Watergate on the horizon?


    Reuters have released this photo of two Ecuadorean embassy cars outside Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport. There is still no confirmation that they were waiting to collect a particular US passenger.

    Ecuadorean cars outside Sheremetyevo airport, Moscow

    This is thought to be the plane carrying Mr Snowden, coming in to land in Moscow earlier.

    Plane thought to be carrying Snowden lands in Moscow

    Russia's Interfax news agency reports that some passengers on board flight SU213 confirmed that Mr Snowden was on the plane.

    Katy Watson BBC News, Washington

    "Americans went to bed thinking the net was closing in on Edward Snowden. They woke up to learn that he was one step ahead of the US. The US is not among friends when it comes to China and Russia. Pursuing justice is proving harder than the US initially thought."


    "Have you seen this man?" - a behind-the-scenes shot from Moscow airport as journalists ask passengers whether they saw Edward Snowden on their flight.

    Journalists show Snowden's photo to passengers in Moscow

    "Hongkongers expressed shock, awe and even a slight twinge of disappointment" to hear Mr Snowden had left, writes Ernest Kao in the South China Morning Post. Some people feel Hong Kong had failed to protect the leaker, writes Mr Kao, while others praised the authorities for letting him leave.


    "Snowden has been an interesting passing snow storm in this Hong Kong summer," Simon Young, law professor at the University of Hong Kong, told the BBC. "The world has learned a bit more about Hong Kong's legal system and geo-political circumstances. We have all learned a lot about man who has changed the world."

    Lance Lenau, Columbia, USA

    emails: I understand the importance of people like Snowden and Assange. I hope that neither one of them faces charges for informing the public of what our country does.


    Mr Snowden is currently staying at the Sheremetyevo airport complex, a source at the airport told Interfax. The Russian news agency also quoted a source at Aeroflot as saying that Mr Snowden had booked a room at terminal E.

    David McIlwain, Sydney, Australia

    emails: How did Snowden get security clearance to do the job that he did and why do the media continue to refer to him as a 'whistle blower' when he is little more than a spy?


    If you're just joining us, welcome. We're covering the departure from Hong Kong of US fugitive leaker Edward Snowden. He has left Hong Kong, where he had been in hiding, and has arrived in the Russian capital, Moscow, in an apparent attempt to escape a US attempt to extradite him.


    For more on Mr Snowden and his actions which have so enraged the US, see our full profile of the IT technician turned international fugitive.


    More from Keith Alexander, head of the National Security Agency, who told ABC News's This Week that Mr Snowden was "clearly an individual who's betrayed the trust and confidence we had in him. This is an individual who is not acting, in my opinion, with noble intent."


    Jason Stephens, an American who was on board the flight thought to be carrying Mr Snowden, told the AFP news agency he saw three pieces of luggage taken directly from the plane after it landed in Moscow and into a waiting car. "It seemed a little strange," he said.


    The BBC's Daniel Sandford says Mr Snowden is believed to be flying on Monday from Moscow to Cuba, and from there on to Ecuador or Venezuela. Has the Kremlin been involved in the diplomatic process? Watch Daniel's report from Sheremetyevo Airport


    Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who helped Mr Snowden release the information on Prism, appeared on NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday morning. He was asked by host David Gregory whether he should be charged himself for having "aided and abetted" the leak.


    Mr Greenwald replied that it was "pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies". Watch the exchange on the Meet the Press website.

    Glenn Greenwald

    tweeted: Who needs the government to try to criminalize journalism when you have David Gregory to do it?

    Jon Williams,

    foreign editor at ABC News, tweets: Snowden's U.S. passport revoked yesterday & Hong Kong authorities notified -- but may have come too late to stop Snowden leaving HK.


    With no sight of Edward Snowden, news photographers have been left taking pictures of each other at Sheremetyevo Airport, Moscow.

    Journalists at Moscow airport
    Jon Williams

    tweets: Russia notified by U.S. embassy in Moscow that Snowden no longer has a valid U.S. passport & that U.S. "desires to have him deported".... Issue now for U.S. is latest reports suggest Snowden in transit area at Sheremetyevo. Doesn't need to use passport - not gone thru border.

    Andrew Das Arulsamy, Kuala-Lumpur, Malaysia

    emails: People who oppose Snowden rely on the idea that if you do not engage in any illegal activities, then why worry? The point here is not about me engaging in illegal activities. I, like many others, do not want to share any of our LEGAL communications and data with the US or other authorities or persons, unknowingly.

    1659: John Sudworth BBC News, Hong Kong

    "Inevitably there is speculation that Hong Kong took the easy way out, perhaps also feeling the heat from a third source, Beijing. It may be that China did not want to see Mr Snowden surrendered by Hong Kong - a realistic possibility if the case had fallen into the hands of the territories independent judicial system."


    Reuters reports that the Ecuadorean ambassador to Moscow has arrived at the airport's hotel, telling journalists he was expecting to meet Edward Snowden.

    Miriam Elder,

    the Guardian's Moscow correspondent, tweets: Ecuadorian ambassador inside Sheremtyevo airport rather confused: "Do you know where he is?" "We thought you did?"

    1705: Daniel Sandford BBC News, Moscow airport

    The Ecuadorean ambassador's car is parked 30m away. The driver confirmed that he brought the ambassador here, but what we don't know is why he is here, and why that conflicts with what airline sources have been saying, which is that Edward Snowden's ultimate destination is Venezuela.

    1708: Daniel Sandford BBC News, Moscow airport

    There's no way that what we've seen happening could have happened without the assistance of the Russian authorities. They seem to be helping, but that said, they haven't given Snowden a visa to enter the country, so to a degree they're trying to stand back a bit, it seems.


    Republican Senator Rand Paul tells CNN that Snowden will have a "real problem" if he "cozies up" to the Russian or Chinese government. The libertarian senator has been an outspoken opponent on the surveillance programmes and suggests Snowden "goes to an independent third country like Iceland".


    Here is the video of NSA chief Keith Alexander saying that Edward Snowden "betrayed the trust and confidence we had in him".


    Reuters quotes Ecuador's ambassador to Moscow, Patricio Alberto Chavez Zavala, as saying he is waiting for "Sarah - We're going to talk to them". Wikileaks says one of its legal team, Sarah Harrison, is travelling with Mr Snowden.


    For a reminder of what Edward Snowden revealed and what the US government's surveillance programme enabled it to see, take our look at our Q&A on Prism and privacy.

    James, Paisley, Scotland

    emails: The US government thinks it can do what ever it likes. What happened to the days when you needed a warrant to tap a phone line. He should be hailed as a hero for standing up for what he believes in.

    1730: Paul Adams BBC News, Washington DC

    Reaction here in Washington was swift. The justice department said it would pursue what it called relevant law enforcement co-operation with any countries where Edward Snowden might be attempting to travel.

    1731: Paul Adams BBC News, Washington DC

    It's thought Mr Snowden may fly on to Venezuela or even Ecuador. Given the involvement of Wikileaks and the fact that its founder, Julian Assange, remains holed up inside the Ecuadoran embassy in London, this seems quite possible.


    Whistleblowing site Wikileaks says it has had a hand in Edward Snowden's departure from Hong Kong, and that it is helping him to seek "political asylum". See our profile of the controversial group which made its name releasing thousands of secret diplomatic papers.

    Breaking News

    Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino Aroca has tweeted: The Government of Ecuador has received an asylum request from Edward J. #Snowden


    Ecuador is one of several countries to have been suggested as a final destination for Mr Snowden since he left Hong Kong. It is already giving asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who has been living in its London embassy for the past year to avoid extradition to Sweden.


    Despite its reputation for sheltering leakers and whistleblowers, Ecuador has been criticised for its treatment of the media, passing a law this month which limited the number of private broadcasters and created a new media watchdog.


    For more on Ecuador, and its President Rafael Correa, see our full country profile.


    Wikileaks have updated their statement on Edward Snowden to say he is "bound for the Republic of Ecuador via a safe route for the purposes of asylum, and is being escorted by diplomats and legal advisors from WikiLeaks". It previously said simply that he was leaving for "a democratic nation".


    Here's our new emerging story on Snowden, after Ecuador said he had asked for asylum.

    Iain Overton

    tweets: Assange & Snowden have chosen strange bedfellows with Ecuador. I wonder if they were Ecuadorian leakers if they'd have had same treatment.

    1808: Katy Watson BBC News, Washington

    The news the Ecuadorean foreign minister has said Mr Snowden has sought asylum will come as a surprise. The US and Ecuador do have an extradition treaty, but it doesn't include political crimes, so it's up in the air how successful the US will be in getting him back on American soil.

    Andrew Preston, Axbridge, UK

    emails: I hope Mr Snowden does manage to reach somewhere that is beyond the reach of the likes of the US and the UK. There is something deeply amiss when people like Assange, Manning, and Snowden are treated like traitors, or picked up on some pretext. Very far from OK with me.


    As it has emerged that the US had revoked Mr Snowden's passport it remains unclear how he was able to fly from Hong Kong to Russia.

    Daniel Sandford BBC News, Moscow airport

    says the Russians don't mind providing Mr Snowden with a safe passage, but they also don't want to upset the Americans too much.

    Paul Adams BBC News, Washington DC

    If Mr Snowden ends up in Ecuador, it is going to be extremely difficult for the Americans to get him - but that doesn't mean they are going to stop trying.

    Kevin Cole, Red Lake, Ontario, Canada

    emails: It seems to me the only party guilty of espionage is the US government. For a country that purports to be the "Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave" they don't seem to mind running over peoples rights in the name of "National Security".


    Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino Aroca is to give a news conference at 01:00 BST, the AFP news agency is quoting Quito as saying.


    Washington is now asking Ecuador, as well as Cuba and Venezuela, not to admit Mr Snowden, a senior Obama administration official tells CNN.


    US Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein in this video expresses surprise that China didn't use Mr Snowden's case as a chance to improve relations with Washington.

    Dianne Feinstein

    In Moscow, Russian police are guarding the Ecuadorian embassy, but there has been no suggestions that Mr Snowden is expected to appear there.

    Russian police officers guard the Ecuadorian embassy in Moscow. Photo: 23 June 2013
    The Politicus

    tweets: The people who cheered #Snowden should take a second look. This guy is now in Russia? First China and then Russia....Come on

    Maggie Baggnall, Milan, Italy

    emails: I hope and trust that Edward Snowden will be safe in his new place of refuge. I wish him Godspeed. I think we need more courageous, intelligent and conscientious young people like him, to stand up for what they (and I) believe in.


    The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald, who helped Mr Snowden release his information, has been on CNN. He says he has never heard the leaker express any regret for what he did. "He's not scared at all, he feels he did exactly the right thing in shining a light on the government and informing his fellow citizens, and he's more than prepared to accept whatever consequences come from that."


    Mr Greenwald says Mr Snowden still has more stories to tell. "He knows that if he's put in the clutches of the US government they're going to put him in a cage and silence him, and prevent him from being heard," the journalist tells CNN.


    The US and Ecuador have an extradition treaty, but article three clearly states: "The stipulations of this treaty shall not be applicable to crimes or offenses of a political character."

    Ben Weeks

    tweets: Should be focusing more on the real issue at hand, the NSA and subsequent coverup, rather than Snowden


    A reminder of events so far today - Edward Snowden has left Hong Kong, where he had been in hiding after revealing confidential details of US surveillance programmes. He flew to Moscow, and - though he has not been seen - is believed to be staying overnight in an airport hotel.


    After much speculation about where Mr Snowden might be heading, Ecuador has confirmed he has applied for political asylum there.


    Unnamed US officials have said Mr Snowden's passport was revoked before he left Hong Kong, though this appears not to have prevented his travel. He also reportedly did not have a Russian visa.


    Mr Snowden is being accompanied by a member of Wikileaks's legal team, the whistleblower site says. It has promised to "use its legal expertise and experience to secure his safety".

    Edward Snowden

    In the US, the authorities have been left furious that Mr Snowden managed to evade an attempt to extradite him from Hong Kong. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein was among those who have said that "China clearly had a role" in making it possible.

     Dianne Feinstein on Face the Nation
    Michael in Oregan, US

    emails: He should be granted political asylum. All he did was expose truthfully what is happening with the US government. In our constitution it says that the US government shall not spy on US citizens. It is in fact illegal for our own government to be doing this.


    The US State Department has issued a statement saying the revoking of Mr Snowden's passport was "routine" for someone facing an arrest warrant, but that it "does not affect citizenship status".


    "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. Because of the Privacy Act, we cannot comment on Mr. Snowden's passport specifically," said the State Department statement.

    Mike in Florida, US

    emails: Snowden is a traitor and he's played the public like a fiddle. There have been many whistleblowers who've remained in the country, told their story, and made positive changes. Snowden on the other hand is conducting a bizarre sideshow.


    This is where we're ending our live coverage of Edward Snowden's dramatic departure from Hong Kong and his attempts to claim asylum. Thank you for following. We will continue updating this story on the main BBC News website.


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