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Chavez successor praises Snowden, offers to consider asylum

NSA leaker Snowden remains in the Moscow airport, within the "no-man's land" of the international transit zone, according to Vladimir Putin. The president of Venezuela has publicly invited Snowden to apply for asylum there and the reporter who broke the story has revealed that Snowden has a "plan B" for the secret documents in his possession if he is captured. NBC's Peter Alexander reports.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has hailed NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s “courage” and offered to consider an asylum application.

Maduro, speaking in Haiti on Tuesday, said someone should “protect” Snowden, who is believed to be in a transit zone at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.

The Obama administration insisted late Tuesday there was a “clear legal basis” for Russia to hand over the fugitive leaker.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed suggestions his country is helping Snowden as “ravings and rubbish.” Officials there say there is nothing they can do because Snowden has not formally crossed into Russian territory.

Ecuador is currently considering an asylum request by Snowden and its embassy in Washington said Wednesday the request would be considered “responsibly,” Reuters reported. The embassy added that it had asked the U.S. to submit its position on Snowden in writing.

Putin said Snowden was at Sheremetyevo airport, awaiting a response to an appeal for asylum in Ecuador. The logical route to be taken - and one for which he at one point had a reservation - would be an Aeroflot flight via Havana.

The national airline told Reuters that he was not booked on any of its flights over the next three days.

Russian president Vladimir Putin said NSA leaker Edward Snowden is a "free man" and "the sooner he chooses his final destination the better it will be for all of us." Meanwhile, Snowden is reportedly hiding somewhere inside Moscow's massive airport. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.

"They are not flying today and not over the next three days," an Aeroflot representative at the transfer desk at Sheremetyevo said when asked whether Snowden and his legal adviser, Sarah Harrison, were due to fly out on Wednesday. "They are not in the system."

However Snowden appeared to have another serious option after Maduro, the successor to Hugo Chavez, spoke warm words about him.

“We have not received an official request from Snowden for political asylum. If one were made, like the request to Ecuador that President Correa is evaluating, if they made the request to us we would evaluate it also because in every case asylum is a humanitarian protection,” he told reporters.

“In any case no-one has asked us (about an asylum request) for now, but we say and advocate that someone in the world should stand with this young man and protect him, the revelations he has made with courage serve to change the world,” he added.

Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian newspaper journalist who broke the story, said Snowden had a contingency plan to distribute documents that have not been made public if he is arrested by the U.S.

Greenwald said Snowden’s contacts around the world had been given encrypted copies of classified documents that would be unlocked if anything happened to him.

Snowden has not been seen in public but is thought to have been in the transit zone at the airport for four days.

Putin, speaking to reporters, suggested he had little interest in Snowden.

"The sooner he chooses his final destination, the better it would be for us and for himself," Putin told reporters, adding that Russia has no extradition treaty with the U.S. “I myself would prefer not to deal with these issues.”

He said the situation was like shearing a baby pig. “There’s a lot of squealing, but there’s little wool.”

That was a diplomatic slap in the face for Secretary of State John Kerry, who on Monday urged Russia to “do the right thing” and hand Snowden over to the U.S. to face charges of espionage.  “We think it is very important in terms of our relationship,” Kerry warned.

National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden renewed Kerry’s call, in a statement issued late Tuesday that cited the fact that Snowden’s  U.S. passport had been revoked.

"While we do not have an extradition treaty with Russia, there is nonetheless a clear legal basis to expel Mr. Snowden, based on the status of his travel documents and the pending charges against him.

In Moscow on Wednesday, U.S. officials - led by Deputy Secretary of State William Burns - continued a behind-the-scenes diplomatic scramble to persuade Russia to change its mind.

Security sources insisted it was likely Snowden was being questioned by Russian intelligence agencies, despite Putin's denials that Russia had any involvement in the case.

Snowden outed himself more than two weeks ago, in Hong Kong, as the leaker of documents that revealed vast surveillance programs that gathered data on the telephone records of millions of Americans.

Despite having flown to Hong Kong in bid to avoid prosecutors, he fled again on Sunday - after the U.S. issued an extradition request – catching an Aeroflot flight to Moscow.

Journalists camped out at Sheremetyevo airport have not spotted Snowden inside, or leaving, the transit area. He has not registered at a hotel in the transit zone, hotel sources told Reuters.

NBC's Jim Maceda, in Moscow, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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