Snowden’s future up in the air after retracted tweet

Posted at 1:26 PM, Jul 09, 2013
and last updated 2013-07-09 13:26:59-04

By Mariano Castillo and Mayra Cuevas


(CNN) — U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden is grounded in Moscow’s airport, but his future is up in the air.

A tweet by a Russian lawmaker Tuesday announced that Snowden had accepted Venezuela’s offer of asylum, giving the impression that the American had evaded U.S. authorities again. But the news remains unconfirmed.

The lawmaker who sent the tweet, Russian parliamentary spokesman Alexei Pushkov, deleted the message and followed up by saying he got the news from a media report.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua was slated to talk with reporters Tuesday afternoon and could shed some light on the reports.

If indeed Snowden has accepted the Venezuelan offer, it resolves one issue in the Snowden saga, but sets the stage for the next chapter: How will Snowden get from Moscow to Caracas?

Venezuela extended an offer of asylum to Snowden last week, and on Monday President Nicolas Maduro received a formal asylum request from Snowden. The Venezuelan government had been waiting to hear back from Snowden on the president’s offer to finalize the deal.

Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor who faces espionage charges in the United States, is slammed as a traitor by critics and hailed as a hero by his supporters.

He remains in limbo more than two weeks after arriving at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport from Hong Kong.

Venezuelan option?

Several nations have rejected Snowden’s appeals for asylum, but a trio left-leaning Latin American nations, to varying degrees, have said they’d welcome Snowden. Bolivia has offered asylum and Nicaragua has said it would consider it.

But speculation centers on Venezuela, which was the first to offer asylum. With both sides having expressed interest, it appeared to be a matter of time before it is confirmed.

But finding a way for Snowden to travel from Russia to Venezuela may require some creative maneuvering.

Already, several European countries denied airspace to the Bolivian president’s plane, allegedly because of rumors that Snowden was aboard. The presidential plane made an unscheduled stop in Vienna, which became a sore spot for Bolivian President Evo Morales.

Snowden would be wise to take a chartered jet on a route that goes over water the entire time, former CIA analyst Allen Thompson told Foreign Policy.

“Leave Moscow,” he told the Foreign Policy. “Fly north to the Barents Sea, thence over to and through the Denmark Strait. Continue south, steering clear of Newfoundland until getting to the east of the Windward Islands. Fly through some convenient gap between islands and continue on to Caracas.”

Kirk Koenig, president of Expert Aviation Consulting, told CNN that such a route would probably work, as it avoids the airspace of any U.S. friendly countries who may try to ground the plane.

“That would probably be his only choice,” he said.

Such a flight would not come cheap — about $200,000 — Koenig said.

“Where it gets more interesting is if they try to put him on an Aeroflot Russian Airlines flight non-stop to Havana, Cuba,” he said. “The smart move would be to put him there as a passenger and hope nobody notices.”

Would other countries make a commercial passenger jet land if they believe Snowden is on board? Given what happened to the Bolivian president, it’s possible, Koenig said.

Warnings from U.S. lawmakers

American politicians from both parties warned nations to consider what’s at stake should they grant Snowden asylum.

“It’s very clear that any of these countries that accept Snowden and offer him political asylum is taking a step against the United States. It’s making a very clear statement. I’m not surprised by the countries that are offering him asylum; they like sticking it to the United States,” Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, suggested serious trade and policy implications await countries that accept Snowden.