The hunt for Edward Snowden stretched around the globe Sunday as the 30-year-old leaker of U.S. classified material flew out of Hong Kong under cover of darkness, dropped into the protective embrace of Russia and made plans to hopscotch through Cuba and Venezuela to eventual asylum in Ecuador.
His stealthy movements, aided by the anti-secrecy WikiLeaks organization and its high-powered lawyers, played out like an international game of Where’s Waldo. The American citizen — a traitor to some and a folk hero to others — kept a step ahead of his government, which has charged him with violating the Espionage Act and revoked his U.S. passport in an effort to bring him to ground.
In his rush to elude arrest, the onetime low-level computer analyst appeared to be showing up the most powerful national security apparatus in the world, just as his campaign to expose vast U.S. surveillance programs had embarrassed the Obama administration by contradicting the president’s pledge to run a government with an “unprecedented level of openness.”
With the collusion of several governments, Snowden managed over the weekend to make Washington appear stumped in its attempts to extradite the former National Security Agency contract worker for leaking details of secret phone and Internet eavesdropping programs.
The drama afforded nations with histories of being thorns in the side of the U.S. a rare and low-cost opportunity to frustrate the administration.
Nevertheless, administration officials remained confident that, despite not succeeding in having Snowden detained in Hong Kong, they will eventually catch their man. “The belt will tighten. We will get him,” said one Department of Justice official, speaking anonymously because of the delicate matter of handling both a criminal case and an awkward game of multinational diplomacy.