Snowden thus left Hong Kong that day with the intent to fly to Moscow, then immediately board a flight to Cuba, and then proceed to his ultimate destination in a Latin American country — Bolivia or Ecuador — in order to seek asylum there. But even after then-President Barack Obama denied that the U.S. Government would be “wheeling and dealing” in order to get Snowden into U.S. custody — “I’m not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker,” he dismissively claimed during a June press conference — the U.S. Government was, in reality, doing everything in its power to prevent Snowden from evading the clutches of the U.S. Government.
Led by then-Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. officials warned every country in both Europe and South America said to be considering shelter for Snowden of grave consequences should they offer asylum to the whistleblower. Threats to Havana caused the Cuban government to rescind its commitment of safe passage they had issued to Snowden’s lawyer. Under Biden’s pressure, Ecuador also reversed itself by proclaiming the safe passage document issued to Snowden was a mistake.
And on the day that Snowden had left Hong Kong, the U.S. State Department unilaterally cancelled his passport, which is why, upon landing in Moscow, he was barred from boarding his next international flight, destined for Havana. With the Russian government unable to allow him to board a flight due to his invalidated passport and with Snowden’s asylum requests pending both with Russia and close to two dozen other states, he was forced to remain in the airport until August 1, when Moscow finally granted him temporary asylum. He has lived there ever since. This has always been a staggering irony of the Snowden story: the primary attack on him by U.S. officials to impugn his motives and patriotism is that he lives in Russia and thus likely cooperated with Russian authorities (a claim for which no evidence has ever been presented), when the reality is that Snowden would have left Russia eight years ago after a 30-minute stay in its airport had U.S. officials not used a series of maneuvers that barred him from leaving.
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