A horde of journalists descended on Moscow’s main airport Monday expecting to find U.S. government contractor turned leaker Edward Snowden on his way to Havana, Cuba. Snowden, however, did not take the expected Aeroflot flight to Cuba. This raises questions about how the leaker who disclosed the federal government’s PRISM program continues to evade authorities.
On a conference call with reporters Monday, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange said Snowden had left Moscow yesterday with a “safe pass,” bound for Ecuador where he has applied for asylum. Assange would not say, however, where Snowden is now. The U.S. has charged Snowden with espionage related to his leaks.
Assange said Snowden may have also applied to other unspecified countries for asylum. (Assange has received asylum from Ecuador as well and has been living in the country’s London embassy for the last year.) Here are a few questions about his thriller-esque journey:
What did Snowden do in Moscow?
Snowden apparently spent his time in Moscow in a transit area for passengers who lack the visa necessary to leave the airport. We don’t know more than that. As the New York Times reported it:
Russia had seemed intent on allowing Mr. Snowden to transit through Moscow but at the highest levels of the Russian government, officials seemed to be pulling a page from a cold war playbook, coyly denying any knowledge about Mr. Snowden.
“Over all, we have no information about him,” Dmitri Peskov, the spokesman for President Vladimir V. Putin, told Reuters early on Monday.
Nikolay N. Zakharov, a spokesman for the Russian Federal Security Service, the F.S.B., declined to say if intelligence officials had met with Mr. Snowden during the roughly 21 hours that he spent at the transit area of the airport or had sought to get a look at any of the trove of secrets he is said to be carrying on several computers.
“On this question, we will not comment,” Mr. Zakharov said.
Was Snowden even in Moscow?
According to the Times:
Mr. Snowden has not been seen publicly or photographed since his reported arrival in Moscow on Sunday afternoon from Hong Kong, and passengers on that flight interviewed at the airport could not confirm that he was on board.
Where is Snowden?
We don’t know. The Russian ITAR-TASS news agency said today that Snowden was still in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, according to airport security. Ecuador’s foreign minister Ricardo Patino, who was visiting Hanoi, Vietnam, also said that Snowden is in Moscow, a contradiction of Assange’s statement. Patino added that Ecuador had not made a decision about whether to grant Snowden asylum or when such a decision would be made.
Russia Today noted that the Moscow-Havana flight would pass through U.S. airspace, where the U.S. can order the plane grounded. Not being on that plane, then, would be a powerful motivator for Snowden. The U.S., meanwhile, is warning Russia not to let Snowden get away.
Alex Halperin is news editor at Salon. You can follow him on Twitter @alexhalperin.More Alex Halperin.