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Kerry to Russia: 'Do the right thing' and return NSA leaker

As of Monday, NSA leaker Edward Snowden was still on the lam. He has managed to evade U.S. officials, who are reportedly furious with China for letting him escape to Moscow after the FBI thought they had him bottled up in Hong Kong. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.

 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday called on Russia to “do the right thing” and prevent professed NSA leaker Edward Snowden from fleeing Moscow and instead return him to the United States.

"I’m not going to get in to the details of what I think is going on, but we hope that the Russians will do the right thing,” Kerry told NBC News in New Delhi, India. “We think it is very important in terms of our relationship. We think it is very important in terms of rule of law. There are important standards.”

Meanwhile President Barack Obama on Monday said the U.S. government is "following all appropriate legal channels and working with all countries to ensure the rule of law is being followed."

The statement was in response to a question on whether he had spoken to Russian leader Vladamir Putin. Obama referred all other questions on Snowden to the Department of Justice.

Snowden was expected to board a flight out of Moscow to Cuba on Monday morning, and heavy security at a Moscow airport fueled speculation he was continuing on a journey that is believed destined for Ecuador in his bid to avoid American espionage charges.

However, journalists aboard Monday morning's Aeroflot flight to Cuba said there was no sign of Snowden on board, even as Ecuador confirmed it was still considering Snowden's request for asylum.

Kerry, who is in the midst of a whirlwind seven-nation trip through the Mideast and Asia, pointed out that the U.S. has returned seven criminals to Russia in recent years.

Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

An empty seat believed to be reserved for Edward Snowden is seen on an Aeroflot jet to Cuba before it left Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on Monday.

The espionage charges leveled against Snowden are very serious, Kerry said, adding that he believes the former NSA contractor has betrayed his country. 

When asked if he considers Snowden a traitor, Kerry said he wouldn’t “play word games about what he is or isn’t,” but went on to say that the 29-year-old is a “traitor to the oath he took to his fellow employees, to the duty he took freely by his own choice.”

Kerry said he did not yet know if the highest levels of the Chinese government were aware of Snowden’s sudden flight to Russia, but said if they were aware that “wouldn’t be a good thing.”

Snowden had originally fled from the U.S. to Hong Kong, where in newspaper interviews he admitted leaking classified documents that revealed the existence of giant top-secret surveillance programs collecting data on phone calls and Internet use.

Kerry pushed back against a question concerning whether Snowden’s disclosures of alleged U.S. hacking in China undercut President Barack Obama’s argument to the Chinese about their cyber-attacks on U.S. military and business interests.

“What Mr. Snowden did has nothing to do with one country and another country attacking the other,” Kerry said. 

Ecuador, which is already harboring WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at its London embassy, said it was reviewing Snowden's asylum request and would make a decision based on human rights considerations, its foreign minister Ricardo Patino told reporters while on a trip to Vietnam, Monday.

Patino said Ecuador was in "respectful" contact with Russia over the issue, adding that the U.S. surveillance programs exposed by Snowden were a rights abuse against the rest of the world.

Only Russia could say where Snowden was currently, Patino added.

Underlining the probability that Snowden would head to Ecuador, Assange told reporters on a conference call Monday that he had been in touch with the American, who he said was healthy and safe.

The Associated Press reported Snowden had registered for Monday’s Aeroflot flight to Cuba with a U.S. passport, which American officials said had been annulled. Aeroflot declined to comment on whether Snowden took his seat.

Aeroflot personnel at Sheremetyevo airport's gate 28 threatened to take journalists' telephones and blocked the view of the aircraft from the terminal. The flight departed at around 6:30 a.m. ET.

On Sunday, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin's said the government was not aware of Snowden's travel plans.

White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said that the U.S. had registered strong objections to authorities in Hong Kong and China through diplomatic channels at the decision to let Snowden leave.

The administration "noted that such behavior is detrimental to U.S.-Hong Kong and U.S.-China bilateral relations," Hayden said.

Assange was granted asylum by Ecuador in 2012 and has been staying at the country's embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden on sex-assault charges.

WikiLeaks has also said Snowden was traveling with Sarah Harrison, a close adviser Assange who reportedly helped coordinate the release of diplomatic cables allegedly acquired by Pfc. Bradley Manning three years ago.

On Monday's conference call, Assange said the Ecuadorian government had provided Snowden with a “refugee document of passage.”  Assange denied this indicated any certainty that Ecuador would approve Snowden’s asylum bid.

Glenn Greenwald, columnist for The Guardian, speaks with Meet the Press about what Edward Snowden plans to do now that he has left Hong Kong.

Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s left-leaning third-term president, is a vocal critic of American foreign policy and Western economic influence in Latin America. And he is part of a group of Latin American leaders — including Raúl Castro of Cuba and the late Hugo Chávez of Venezuela — perceived to have an anti-American political worldview.

While in China, Snowden reportedly gave an interview to the South China Morning Post where he claimed that the reason he accepted a position with defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton was so that he could have access to details about NSA surveillance programs. 

"My position with Booz Allen Hamilton granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked," he said, according to the article. "That is why I accepted that position about three months ago." 

NBC News has not independently confirmed the authenticity of the report.

The U.S. said Sunday it was "disappointed" that Hong Kong had declined to arrest Snowden and warned other countries "in the Western Hemisphere" that they should stop him in his tracks.

A Justice Department official said authorities have been in "continual contact" with their Hong Kong counterparts since June 10, when they learned that Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency who has been charged with espionage, was there.

Hong Kong did not raise any questions about the U.S. request that Snowden be arrested for a full week, the official said. "In light of this, we find their decision to be particularly troubling," the official added.

Although the U.S. insisted its request fully complied with the law, the Hong Kong government said in a statement that the request did not and that he had left "on his own accord for a third country through a lawful and normal channel."

NBC News' Courtney Kube, Alastair Jamieson, Daniel Arkin, Catherine Chomniak and Albina Kovalyova contributed to this report. 

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