UPDATE: (CNN) — The U.S. government has revoked the passport of Edward Snowden, the ex-NSA computer contractor who spilled American surveillance secrets to newspapers, a source familiar with the matter told CNN.
From CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty
By Catherine E. Shoichet
(CNN) — The man who has admitted to leaking classified documents about U.S. surveillance programs appears to have his sights set on Ecuador.
Edward Snowden, who is charged with espionage in the United States, has asked for asylum in the South American country, its foreign minister said.
WikiLeaks, which facilitates the publication of classified information and has said it’s helping Snowden’s asylum bid, said Sunday that Snowden was heading to Ecuador “via a safe route.”
“Once Mr. Snowden arrives in Ecuador, his request will be formally processed,” WikiLeaks said in a statement on its website.
CNN spotted a car with diplomatic plates and an Ecuadorian flag at Moscow’s airport on Sunday.
And the Reuters news agency reported that Ecuador’s ambassador to Russia said he would be meeting with Snowden at a Moscow airport hotel.
As word spread that Snowden had left his Hong Kong hideout and was headed to Russia on Sunday, the former NSA contractor became the center of a global guessing game.
Media reports speculated that he could be traveling to Ecuador, Venezuela or Cuba — all countries where leaders have sharply criticized what they call the U.S. government’s imperialist approach.
Why would Ecuador win out? Is that country likely to grant Snowden asylum?
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, a left-leaning economist, has railed against the United States in concert with allies in Latin America.
And it’s been nearly a year since the South American country approved a similar asylum request from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is now holed up inside Ecuador’s embassy in London.
He faces arrest in Britain and possible extradition to Sweden if he leaves the embassy.
Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino has called on British authorities to reconsider Assange’s case, describing it as “politically motivated.”
On Sunday, he said that authorities would review Snowden’s petition and give him a reply as soon as possible, Ecuador’s state-run Andes news agency reported.
The foreign minister is scheduled to speak at a news conference Monday from Vietnam, where he is traveling on a state visit.
Wherever Snowden goes next, U.S. officials have said they plan to push to prosecute him.
On Sunday, a senior administration official said the United States was asking Ecuador, Cuba and Venezuela not to let Snowden in or expel him if he enters their countries.
A source familiar with the matter said the U.S. government had revoked Snowden’s passport.
Glenn Greenwald, a journalist for the Guardian who worked with Snowden on articles about the agency’s secret surveillance programs, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that he didn’t know where Snowden was heading.
“He’s going to be facing serious consequences no matter what happens,” Greenwald told CNN’s Reliable Sources. “He had a life in which he was living in the United States. He was an American citizen his whole life. He had a long-term girlfriend in Hawaii, a stable, lucrative career — all of which he gave up in order to bring to light what he believed is serious wrongdoing on the part of our highest political officials. And he’s now — no matter what, at best — going to spend the rest of his life on the run from the most powerful government on earth.”
CNN’s Phil Black, Elise Labott and Ashley Fantz contributed to this report.
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