US & Canada

NSA leaks: Wikileaks' Assange asylum bid for Snowden

A banner supporting Edward Snowden is displayed at Central, Hong Kong's business district, 20 June 2013
Image caption Edward Snowden fled to Hong Kong last month, shortly before the scandal broke

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is trying to broker a deal that would see US surveillance programme leaker Edward Snowden granted asylum in Iceland.

Mr Assange said he had been in touch with lawyers for Mr Snowden, who fled to Hong Kong before the scandal broke.

Iceland's PM said "informal discussions" had been held with an intermediary of the ex-CIA contractor.

But Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson said Mr Snowden, 29, would need to be in Iceland to apply for asylum.

Mr Snowden, who most recently worked as a contract computer technician for the National Security Agency (NSA), the US electronic spying agency, has vowed to fight any extradition attempts by the US.

The US has yet to file a formal request for his extradition from the Chinese territory.

Fair trial?

The leaks, published in a series of articles this month in The Guardian and Washington Post newspapers, revealed that US agencies had systematically gathered vast amounts of phone and web data.

"We are in touch with Mr Snowden's legal team and have been, are involved, in the process of brokering his asylum in Iceland," said Mr Assange in a conference call from the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he himself is fighting extradition to Sweden.

Image caption Julian Assange has been in Ecuador's embassy in London for a year

On Monday, Mr Snowden said US officials had destroyed any possibility of a fair trial by labelling him a traitor.

"The US government, just as they did with other whistleblowers, immediately and predictably destroyed any possibility of a fair trial at home, openly declaring me guilty of treason," he wrote in a live online chat.

Former Vice-President Dick Cheney and two influential members of the US Congress have accused the leaker of betraying his country.

Mr Snowden's father has also urged his son not to commit "treason", using a US TV interview this week to urge him to come home and "face justice".

NSA Director Gen Keith Alexander told Congress on Wednesday that surveillance programmes leaked by Mr Snowden had helped thwart 50 attacks since 2001.

Plans to attack the New York Stock Exchange were among 10 plots targeting the US that had been stopped, Mr Alexander told the intelligence committee of the House of Representatives, adding that the snooping operations were critical.

Julian Assange walked into the Ecuadorean embassy in London on 19 June 2012 when his appeal against extradition to Sweden for questioning on accusations of sex crimes was turned down.

He has always denied the accusations, and said on Wednesday he would stay in the embassy even if they were dropped, as he still feared being sent to the US for releasing secret documents.

Wikileaks made headlines around the world in 2010 after it released more than 250,000 leaked US diplomatic cables.