Snowden might accept Venezuelan asylum

A journalist says the whistleblower hasn't given a clear sign of when he will travel.

FILE:US National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, an analyst with a US defence contractor during an interview with the Guardian in Hong Kong. Picture :AFP

RIO DE JANEIRO - Fugitive former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden will likely accept asylum in Venezuela to escape prosecution in the United States, said Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who first published the secret documents that Snowden leaked.

In an interview immediately after speaking to Snowden by online chat on Tuesday, Greenwald said that Venezuela, one of three Latin American countries that have offered Snowden asylum, is the one most likely to guarantee his safety, especially as the United States pressures other nations not to take him if he is able to leave his current limbo at a Russian airport.

Nicaragua and Bolivia have also said they would accept Snowden but Venezuela is better poised "to get him safely from Moscow to Latin America and to protect him once he's there," Greenwald said.

"They're a bigger country, a stronger country and a richer country with more leverage in international affairs."

WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group that has been advising Snowden on his legal options in his search for asylum, suggested earlier on Tuesday that new developments in Snowden's search could unfold on Wednesday.

Greenwald, though, said a resolution to the crisis is still unclear and could take "days or hours or weeks."

He said he based his opinion on an "informed guess" after recent contacts with Snowden.

Those discussions, he said, also lead him to believe that the documents that Snowden took from the US National Security Agency(NSA) remain safely out of the hands of any foreign governments.

Greenwald returned to his home in Rio de Janeiro after a June meeting with Snowden in Hong Kong, from where he published the first of many reports that disclosed the depth of alleged surveillance by the NSA on telephone and internet usage of US citizens.

The reports also appear to shed light on efforts by U.S. intelligence to get similar data in Europe, Latin America and elsewhere.

SNOWDEN'S CHALLENGE

Greenwald said Snowden explained his options but gave no clear sign of how soon he might travel.

While Russia has denied him entry beyond the international area of a Moscow airport terminal, Snowden has had Internet access and been able to communicate with those seeking to help him.

"He's not in anyone's custody or detention and never has been," Greenwald said.

Snowden's challenge, he added, is "figuring out how to get to the country that has offered him asylum".

Greenwald dismissed suggestions that Snowden's passage through China and Russia had given authorities in either country the opportunity to seize the intelligence in his possession.

"He gave no information of any kind to the Chinese government or the Russian government," Greenwald said.

Media reports have said Snowden is travelling with numerous laptop computers but Greenwald said the former contractor is not foolish enough to store information where it could be easily seized.

"There are all sorts of smarter and safer ways for someone who knows what they're doing - and he knows what he's doing - to store and carry large amounts of data."

Greenwald is facing pressure of his own as he filters through the more than 5,000 documents that Snowden gave him.

In addition to a media onslaught and criticism by opponents of the leaks back in the United States, Greenwald said he may have already been targeted by intelligence forces.

While in Hong Kong, he said he told his long-time boyfriend, on an Internet call that he would send him some of the documents by email.

Two days later, Greenwald said his boyfriend's laptop went missing from their Rio home.

Now, Greenwald said, he is focused on digesting the rest of the documents and writing additional stories, a process he expects to last months.

Future coverage, he said, would shed more light on how the NSA collects data and interacts with telecommunications, software companies and other intelligence agencies in the United States.