Edward Snowden is Out Of Options and Time is Running Out

Entering the third week of being stranded in the transit area of Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport, National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden's options are severely limited thanks to a suspended passport and the risk of flying over United States-friendly airspace.

After leaking documents exposing the NSA's expansive surveillance program spying on American citizens, Snowden left his home in Hawaii first to Hong Kong, and then to Russia, where he hoped to eventually gain passage to any country willing to take him on asylum. Thus far, he has applied for asylum in 26 countries with the help of Wikileaks, several of which have already rejected his requests.

Now, however, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Snowden to surreptitiously leave Russia without U.S. detection. The forced grounding of Bolivian president Evo Morales's airplane in Austria amid rumors that Snowden was on board shows how far Washington's reach is when it comes to preventing Snowden's escape from Moscow. Additionally, the State Department has vowed that any country willing to help out Snowden would face "grave difficulties" repairing their relationship with the U.S.

After this incident, several Latin American countries have offered Snowden asylum in a show of solidarity against what Morales called a "neo-colonial" attitude on the part of the U.S. and Europe. Currently, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Bolivia are the three countries that are open to taking Snowden, while Ecuador, under U.S. pressure, has withdrawn their earlier offer. According to Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian, Snowden's preferred destination appears to be Venezuela. As of today, however, Snowden has yet to respond to Caracas's official offer of asylum.

While Snowden does have options on where he would prefer to live, the question remains whether he can get out of Russia, fly to Havana (the most likely pit-stop), and then to any of the aforementioned countries without U.S. detection. Should Snowden decide to go to, say, Venezuela via Cuba, he would still not only have to fly over U.S.-friendly Scandinavia, but would have to cross into U.S. airspace, which would be extremely difficult (if not impossible) to pass through undetected. Even if he were to fly direct from Moscow, his flight would still carry him across Western Europe and a risky trip over the Atlantic Ocean without anywhere to refuel. Retracing his steps back to Hong Kong and flying over the Pacific would also prove to be impossible without making at least one stop in either the US or Canada. 

Another potential snag is his suspended passport, which further restricts his way out of Russia; however, a proposal was recently introduced in Iceland's parliament that would grant Icelandic citizenship to Snowden, and thus, the necessary passport which would allow him to travel. Even if such a proposal were to pass, the process would still take a length of time, wither it be days or weeks before citizenship and a passport could be granted.

Although much of the European Union is dissatisfied with the reports of American secret surveillance occurring in their countries, it is still unlikely that they would be willing to let Snowden pass through their airspace. France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal all denied Morales's requests to pass over their airspace as they were led to believe Snowden was on board. For now, Snowden will have to continue waiting out the U.S. as he plots his next move.

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Frank Lopapa

Graduate of the John C. Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations, specializing in International Security and Global Negotiation and Conflict Management. Guest contributor to international affairs magazine Diplomatic Courier. When not writing about security issues for Policy Mic, I cover Italian soccer for Forza Italian Football, among other places.

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