MOSCOW -- NSA leaker Edward Snowden has asked for political asylum in Ecuador after fleeing Hong Kong for Russia, the Ecuador Foreign Ministry said Sunday.
Russian news site RT reported that Snowden was to leave Moscow on Monday for Havana, and then move on to Caracas, Venezuela. But the Ecuador ministry and WikiLeaks, a website that divulges state secrets and is assisting Snowden, said he will try to get to Ecuador instead.
A Russian security source indicated on Monday that Moscow had no basis to extradite Snowden.
"Snowden has not committed any unlawful act on Russian territory," RIA Novosti quoted an unnamed security source as saying on Monday morning. "Russian law enforcement has no order to detain him, so there is no basis to do so."
Earlier the White House urged Russia to consider "all options available," according to National Security Council Spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden cited by Associated Press.
Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino has confirmed, meanwhile, that Snowden had requested asylum in his country, and pledged that his request would be considered in the shortest time possible, according to televised remarks carried by the Latin-American channel Telesur.
RIA Novosti reported at about 2:00 a.m. Monday morning that Ecuador's Ambassador to Russia, Patricio Alberto Chavez Zavala was seen leaving Sheremetyevo's transit zone, with several people getting into his car.
Interfax reported that Snowden has not been able to leave the airport because he does not have a Russian visa. He was accompanied by WikiLeaks representative Sarah Harrison, a British citizen who does have a Russian visa, according to Interfax.
"(Snowden) is bound for a democratic nation via a safe route for the purposes of asylum,and is being escorted by diplomats and legal advisers from WikiLeaks," the group said in a statement.
Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, told Australian Sydney Morning Herald that Snowden will be met by "diplomats from the country that will be his ultimate destination" in the airport, who'll accompany him on a further flight to his destination.
A Russian lawmaker commented on Monday that the Snowden affair would have little effect on Russia-US relations.
"It won't improve these relations, but it won't harm them," RIA Novosti quoted Leonid Kalashnikov, first deputy head of the State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee as saying. Kalashnikov added that Russia should give Snowden citizenship and asylum. "Why should he fly to Ecuador? This isn't about a political refugee, but about a humanitarian one."
Snowden was allowed to leave Hong Kong just hours after Obama administration officials announced they filed a formal petition with Chinese authorities seeking Snowden's arrest and return to the United States.
An unofficial intermediary for the Hong Kong government told Edward Snowden that he was free to leave the city, according to Albert Ho, a local legislator who said on Monday that he was part of the former NSA contractor's legal team.
Ho said the message was passed to Snowden after Ho met with a senior government official on Friday to discuss whether Hong Kong would extradite Snowden to the U.S. and whether he might be detained at the airport if he tried to leave on his own.
He said Snowden originally planned to leave Saturday evening, but then hesitated as he tried to confirm the identity of the intermediary who had given him the all clear. Ho said he thought the person might have been an official from the Chinese government.
"I have reasons to believe that ... those who wanted [Snowden] to leave represented Beijing authorities," Ho said. "Beijing would not step foward to the front stage because it would affect Sino-U.S. relations."
On Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had pressed the request for Snowden's arrest directly with Hong Kong Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen.
A U.S. official told the Associated Press that Snowden's passport was revoked before he left Hong Kong. Hong Kong's immigration department stated that so far no notification has been received from the United States government about the issue.
Snowden's travel plans could be complicated, but airlines or countries are allowed to overlook a withdrawn passport if a senior official so orders, the AP reported.
"We will continue to discuss this matter with Hong Kong and pursue relevant law enforcement cooperation with other countries where Mr. Snowden may be attempting to travel,'' U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman Nanda Chitre said Sunday.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said the U.S. government must exhaust all legal options to get Snowden back.
"Every one of those nations is hostile to the United States," Rogers, R-Mich., said on NBC's Meet the Press.
"When you think about what he says he wants and what his actions are, it defies logic," said Rogers, who repeated his assertion that Snowden's leaks of secret government surveillance programs had damaged U.S. national security.
The Hong Kong government said Snowden, 30, was allowed to fly out "on his own accord" because the U.S. extradition request announced Saturday did not fully comply with Hong Kong law.
Hong Kong said in a statement that it allowed Snowden to leave because documents provided by the U.S. government for extradition did not "fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law," and the U.S. had not yet provided the additional information requested to consider the U.S. request for a provisional arrest warrant.
After the announcement Saturday of the extradition request, an Obama administration official told USA TODAY that Hong Kong risked harming relations with the two sides if it did not comply with its legal obligations. Regina Ip, a legislator and Cabinet member in Hong Kong, said, "I don't think we need to be concerned about any consequences."
Snowden has been the focus of a criminal investigation since he acknowledged earlier this month that he was the source of materials detailing surveillance programs that collected telephone records for millions of Americans and a separate operation that targeted the Internet communications of non-citizens abroad who were suspected of terrorist connections.
He has been charged in U.S. federal court with espionage.
The South China Morning Post meanwhile reported that Snowden had provided information to show that the NSA had hacked into the Hong Kong system of Pacnet, which runs undersea telecommunications cables around the Pacific, and into 63 computers and servers at Tsinghua University in Beijing, one of China's most elite schools.
"The NSA does all kinds of things like hack Chinese cellphone companies to steal all of your SMS data," Snowden told the newspaper.
Snowden, who was employed by Booz Allen Hamilton as an NSA systems analyst in Hawaii, fled to the Chinese territory of Hong Kong last month with top-secret documents and court orders on government surveillance operations.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said she was not surprised that Snowden would seek safe haven in Cuba or Venezuela, "two regimes that have a longstanding history of giving refuge to fugitives from U.S. law."
"The cruel irony is that there are no press freedoms in either Cuba or Venezuela, yet Snowden who supposedly stands for transparency in government seeks refuge in police states like these two countries," she said.