Snowden's whereabouts a mystery as flight to Cuba leaves without him

MOSCOW // Confusion over the whereabouts of National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden grew yesterday after a plane took off from Moscow for Cuba with an empty seat booked in his name.
In a live news conference, the founder of the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, refused to reveal Mr Snowden's location but insisted he was safe.
Mr Snowden has applied for asylum in Ecuador, Iceland and possibly other countries, he said.
An Aeroflot representative said Mr Snowden had not boarded flight SU150 to Havana, which was filled with journalists from agencies and newspapers, who were trying to track him down.
Security around the aircraft was heavy before boarding and guards tried to prevent the scrum of photographers and cameramen from taking pictures of the plane, heightening the speculation that he might have been secretly escorted on board.
The Interfax news agency, which has extensive contacts with Russian security agencies, cited a source as saying that Mr Snowden may have flown out in a different plane unseen by journalists.
Others speculated that Russian security agencies might want to keep Mr Snowden in Russia for a more thorough debriefing.
Mr Snowden has not been seen since he arrived in Moscow on Sunday from Hong Kong, where he had been hiding for several weeks to evade US justice and left to dodge efforts to extradite him.
After spending a night in Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport, he had been expected to fly to Cuba and Venezuela en route to possible asylum in Ecuador.
Interfax quoted an unidentified "well-informed source" in Moscow saying that Russia has received a US request to extradite Mr Snowden and responded by saying it will consider it.
The same source said that Russia could not detain and extradite Mr Snowden since he had not crossed the Russian border.
Justice Department officials in Washington did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Experts said it was likely that the Russians were questioning Mr Snowden, interested in what he knew about US electronic espionage against Moscow.
"If Russian special services hadn't shown interest in Snowden, they would have been utterly unprofessional," Igor Korotchenko, a former colonel in Russia's top military command turned security analyst, said on state Rossiya 24 television.
Aeroflot said earlier that Mr Snowden had registered for the flight using his American passport, which the United States recently annulled.
Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said his government had received an asylum request, adding yesterday that the decision "has to do with freedom of expression and with the security of citizens around the world." WikiLeaks also said it would help Mr Snowden.
Ecuador has rejected the United States' previous efforts at cooperation, and has been helping Mr Assange avoid prosecution by allowing him to stay at its embassy in London.
But Mr Assange's comments that Mr Snowden had applied in multiple places opened other possibilities of where he might try to go.
WikiLeaks has said it is providing legal help to Snowden at his request and that he was being escorted by diplomats and legal advisers from the group.
Mr Snowden gave documents to The Guardian and The Washington Post newspapers disclosing US surveillance programs that collect vast amounts of phone records and online data in the name of foreign intelligence, often sweeping up information on American citizens.


July 5, 1994: Jeff Bezos founds Cadabra Inc, which would later be renamed to, because his lawyer misheard the name as 'cadaver'. In its earliest days, the bookstore operated out of a rented garage in Bellevue, Washington

July 16, 1995: Amazon formally opens as an online bookseller. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought becomes the first item sold on Amazon

1997: Amazon goes public at $18 a share, which has grown about 1,000 per cent at present. Its highest closing price was $197.85 on June 27, 2024

1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

2000: Amazon Marketplace opens, allowing people to sell items on the website

2002: Amazon forms what would become Amazon Web Services, opening the platform to all developers. The cloud unit would follow in 2006

2003: Amazon turns in an annual profit of $75 million, the first time it ended a year in the black

2005: Amazon Prime is introduced, its first-ever subscription service that offered US customers free two-day shipping for $79 a year

2006: Amazon Unbox is unveiled, the company's video service that would later morph into Amazon Instant Video and, ultimately, Amazon Video

2007: Amazon's first hardware product, the Kindle e-reader, is introduced; the Fire TV and Fire Phone would come in 2014. Grocery service Amazon Fresh is also started

2009: Amazon introduces Amazon Basics, its in-house label for a variety of products

2010: The foundations for Amazon Studios were laid. Its first original streaming content debuted in 2013

2011: The Amazon Appstore for Google's Android is launched. It is still unavailable on Apple's iOS

2014: The Amazon Echo is launched, a speaker that acts as a personal digital assistant powered by Alexa

2017: Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, its biggest acquisition

2018: Amazon's market cap briefly crosses the $1 trillion mark, making it, at the time, only the third company to achieve that milestone


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