Whistle-blower update: Snowden lands in Moscow; WikiLeaker's Gmail searched

U.S. asks Hong Kong to extradite PRISM leaker Edward Snowden; Snowden departs Hong Kong for Moscow; a WikiLeaks volunteer had his Gmail account searched; and more.

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Edward Moyer
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A woman walks past a banner displayed in support of ex-NSA analyst Edward Snowden in Hong Kong on June 18, 2013. Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images

Several stories involving whistle-blower/espionage suspect Edward Snowden cropped up over the weekend, including word of a U.S. demand for his extradition and that he flew to Moscow Sunday, and is likely heading for another destination. And news of a Justice Department search of a former WikiLeaks volunteer's Gmail account has also surfaced. Here's a quick summary:

Snowden was allowed to leave Hong Kong because a U.S. extradition request did not fully comply with Hong Kong law. He landed in Moscow early Sunday morning, but his final destination is unclear. According to a report in the New York Times, he may be headed to Ecuador, Cuba or Venezuela. Via its statement on its website and on Twitter, WikiLeaks said that it provided assistance to Snowden in his search for political asylum, and that he landed in Moscow accompanied by WikiLeaks legal advisers."

Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino tweeted: "The Government of Ecuador has received an asylum request from Edward J. #Snowden." WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been the guest of Ecuador's embassy in London for just over a year.

  • In a brief report, The South China Morning Post said today that Snowden told the paper during a June 12 interview that the U.S. government has been hacking into the networks of cell phone carriers based in Hong Kong and in mainland China.
    "The NSA [U.S. National Security Agency] does all kinds of things like hack Chinese cell phone companies to steal all of your SMS data," Snowden reportedly said.
    The Morning Post also reported that Snowden said the NSA engaged in extensive hacking against one of mainland China's top universities and had also hacked into computers run by the owner of one of the biggest fiber-optic networks in the Hong Kong region.
    If true, such hacks might, one imagines, add a new wrinkle to the cybersecurity/cyberspying dialogue currently taking place between the U.S. and China.

  • The South China Morning Post also said Saturday that Snowden "is not under police protection but in a 'safe place' in Hong Kong." Snowden has been charged by the U.S. government with espionage, and CBS News reports that the U.S. government has asked Hong Kong authorities to extradite him.
    "We believe that the charges presented, present a good case for extradition under the treaty, the extradition treaty between the United States and Hong Kong," House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon told CBS. "Hong Kong has been a historically good partner of the United States in law enforcement matters, and we expect them to comply with the treaty in this case."
    U.S. News & World Report, meanwhile, says an Icelandic businessman has offered to fly Snowden to Iceland if the country grants him asylum (WikiLeaks' Julian Assange told reporters earlier in the week that the group was discussing asylum for Snowden with the Icelandic government).
    CNN reported that Hong Kong Executive Council member Regina Ip said that Snowden would not be turned over to U.S. authorities if the charges are deemed political in nature, rather than a crime under Hong Kong law. He was allowed to leave Hong Kong, flying to Moscow and then on to another destination that would not honor the U.S. request for extradition.

  • A petition to pardon Snowden, posted to the White House's We the People site, has passed the 100,000 signatures mark, meaning the White House is required to issue a response. The Next Web pointed this out earlier.
    Hacking collective Anonymous sent a flurry of tweets Saturday, voicing its displeasure with government intelligence-gathering efforts. Note the icon embellished with "Protect Snowden." Screenshot by Edward Moyer/CNET

    Also, protests against the sort of digital surveillance called out by Snowden, and in support of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, are being planned for July 4, which is, of course, Independence Day. The group coordinating the demonstrations calls itself Restore the Fourth.

  • Britain's Guardian newspaper -- which, along with The Washington Post, ran the first leaks from Snowden about a U.S. surveillance effort involving a computer system called PRISM -- published a couple of follow-ups to its report yesterday that the U.K.'s Government Communications Headquarters intelligence agency (GCHQ), along with the NSA, had secretly gained access to fiber-optic cables that carry the world's communications.
    A long overview details how documents recently leaked by Snowden back up the conclusion made more than a decade ago by European Parliament investigations into "the existence of a global system for the interception of private and commercial communications." The Guardian also reported that the U.K.'s M15 counterintelligence and security agency had expressed concerns in 2008 about the fiber-optic tapping, fearing the GCHQ effort went "too far."

  • Wired reported that the U.S. Department of Justice "used a secret search warrant to obtain the entire contents of a Gmail account used by a former WikiLeaks volunteer in Iceland." The volunteer had helped manage WikiLeaks' secure chat room in 2010; the warrant was issued in 2011 and ordered Google not to disclose the search. But this past May, a U.S. district judge said Google could inform the volunteer, Herbert Snorrason, of the search and provide him with a redacted copy of the warrant. Wired says the search is "the first confirmed case of the government obtaining the contents of a WikiLeaks-connected e-mail account," and it quotes Snorrason:
    Because I talked to Julian Assange, all information held by Google relating to my user account with them can be handed over to U.S. prosecutors. How is this reasonable? How is this a particular description? How, in short, is this shit valid under the U.S. Bill of Rights? I'd really like someone to explain that to me. With a straight face. Preferably without making me want to punch them in the process.
    And this is just my Google account. What else did they take -- and whose?
    Google has said previously that "we provide user data to governments only in accordance with the law."

  • Finally, WikiLeaks' Assange published a statement after a year in exile in the Ecuadorian Embassy, saying, among other things:
    A few weeks ago, Edward Snowden blew the whistle on an ongoing program -- involving the Obama administration, the intelligence community and the internet services giants -- to spy on everyone in the world.
    As if by clockwork, he has been charged with espionage by the Obama administration.
    The U.S. government is spying on each and every one of us, but it is Edward Snowden who is charged with espionage for tipping us off.
    It is getting to the point where the mark of international distinction and service to humanity is no longer the Nobel Peace Prize, but an espionage indictment from the U.S. Department of Justice.
    You can read Assange's complete statement here.

  • Updates, 3:18, 3:21 and 10 p.m. PT: Adds item on Julian Assange's statement from the Ecuadorian Embassy; adds Donilon quote on extradition and statement from Hong Kong Executive Council member Regina Ip regarding the extradition of Edward Snowden.