(NBC NEWS) -- The
self-identified source who leaked documents to The Guardian and The
Washington Post regarding top-secret government surveillance programs
may face limited options if he is charged and the United States tries to
Edward Snowden, 29, has been called a hero and a
traitor since his name became attached to the high-profile disclosure of
classified documents to reporters. A three-month employee of government
consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton - the company has since terminated
him - Snowden was interviewed by the Guardian at a Hong Kong hotel where
he first took refuge after fleeing the United States. It is unclear
whether he remains there.
"As a U.S. citizen, I think it is very
hard to avoid getting sent back to the U.S. There are certain countries
that might grant him asylum, but that very much depends on whether the
country is willing to go to battle with the U.S. over this issue," said
attorney Robert Anello, a New York attorney who has handled extradition
The United States has bilateral extradition treaties with 109
countries, from Albania to Zimbabwe, according to the State Department.
Mainland China, however, does not make the list. Neither do places such
as Andorra, Bermuda, Croatia, Indonesia, many African nations and most
of the former Soviet republics.
The most immediate concern for the
U.S. government may be ensuring that Snowden doesn't disappear from
their radar, said Andrew Lourie, an international judgment enforcement
attorney at Kobre & Kim.
"With respect to getting him back,
they have a couple different ways to go about it," Lourie said. Given
Snowden's American citizenship, the government could ask for authorities
in Hong Kong to deport Snowden "as a matter of international comity."
Snowden's exact whereabouts remain unclear, some countries have
indicated that they may be more hospitable to the man who told reporters
that his first job with the National Security Agency was as a security
"I think it is really tragic that an American has to move
to a place that has a reputation for less freedom," Snowden said in an
interview with The Guardian. "Still, Hong Kong has a reputation for
freedom in spite of the People's Republic of China."
where Snowden seems to have first sought refuge, may not have been the
best choice, should the U.S. move to extradite him. Returned to Chinese
rule in 1997, Hong Kong has a rendition treaty with the American
government, and any request could still be subject to final approval
from the government in Beijing.
"China is going to have to
determine whether its foreign policy is consistent with such an
extradition," Anello said. "Countries could decide for political reasons
just to ship someone back to the U.S. A country like China may decide
it isn't worth the hassle or the bad relations."
option, if Snowden's looking to get out of Hong Kong in a hurry, might
be Taiwan, but it's far from clear that he'd be welcome there. The
country doesn't have a formal extradition agreement with the U.S., and
reviews each case individually, the Associated Press reported.
has indicated that if he has the chance he might be headed for cooler
climes, and follow in the footsteps of chess champ Bobby Fischer, who
died in Iceland in 2008 after being granted citizenship.
"My predisposition is to seek asylum in a country with shared
values," Snowden said in his interview with the Guardian. "That nation
that most encompasses this is Iceland. They stood up for people over
An Icelandic group that works on speech and
media issues has said it would lobby the country's interior ministry to
grant Snowden asylum should he apply.
"We are currently attempting
to get in touch with Mr. Snowden to confirm that this is his will and
discuss the details of his asylum request," the International Modern
Media Institute said in a statement. "Our next step will be to assess
the security implications of asylum, as it is possible that Iceland may
not be the best location, depending on various questions regarding the
legal framework - all of these issues will be taken into account."
Vladimir Putin's Russia said it would entertain a request for asylum from Snowden, a spokesman told a newspaper in the country.
will act upon a fait accompli," Dmitri Peskov said in response to the
newspaper Kommersant, according to the Washington Post. "If the request
is filed, it will be considered. There can be no subjunctive mood in
With so much yet unknown about Snowden and the
programs he claims to have had a hand in exposing, it may be impossible
to say whether any country would be willing to keep him on its turf in
the face of an irate U.S. government.
"The difficulty for someone
like Mr. Snowden is that the political winds can shift, and while he may
be in favor today, he may be out of favor tomorrow," Anello said.
By Matthew DeLuca, Staff Writer, NBC News