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Diplomatic Storm Brewing Over Whistleblower Snowden’s Whereabouts

June 24, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT

JEFFREY BROWN: And now to the search for Edward Snowden.

The South China Morning Post reported today that the former U.S. intelligence contractor said in an interview that he originally accepted a job at Booz Allen Hamilton in order to have access to the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. A diplomatic storm is now brewing over Snowden’s whereabouts and travel.

Margaret Warner reports.

MARGARET WARNER: This seat on a Cuba-bound flight from Moscow was empty today, the whereabouts of its supposed ticket holder, Edward Snowden, unknown.

The intelligence contractor who disclosed secret U.S. surveillance programs hasn’t been seen since reportedly landing in Moscow Sunday evening after fleeing Hong Kong. White House officials said they believe Snowden is still in the Russian capital. But President Obama wouldn’t say whether he contacted President Putin on the matter.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What we know is, is that we’re following all the appropriate legal channels and working with various other countries to make sure that rule of law is observed.

MARGARET WARNER: Today, a spokesman for Putin denied any knowledge of Snowden’s movements. Traveling in India, Secretary of State John Kerry urged the Russians to do the right thing. And he had a warning for Russia and China.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY, United States: You know, it would be deeply troubling, obviously, if they have adequate notice and, notwithstanding that, they make a decision willfully to ignore that and not live by the standards of the law. Then there would be, without any question, some effect and impact on the relationship and consequences.

MARGARET WARNER: American officials voiced exasperation with how Snowden managed to get out of Hong Kong. On June 14, the U.S. Justice Department had formally charged him with espionage in a secret indictment, and the next day asked Hong Kong to arrest and extradite him. The State Department reportedly revoked his passport this weekend and according to the White House notified Hong Kong.

Today, the chief executive of the autonomous Chinese territory said the extradition request didn’t meet legal standards.

LEUNG CHUN-YING, Hong Kong Chief Executive: There was no legal basis to stop Mr. Snowden from leaving Hong Kong.

MARGARET WARNER: In Beijing, a spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry insisted the decision was entirely Hong Kong’s.

But, in Washington today, that answer didn’t fly at the White House.

JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: We are just not buying that this was a technical decision by a Hong Kong immigration official. This was a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive, despite a valid arrest warrant, and that decision unquestionably has a negative impact on the U.S.-China relationship.

MARGARET WARNER: As to how Snowden managed to travel without a valid passport, WikiLeaks, founded by Julian Assange, says it helped provide a refugee document that cleared the way. Assange spoke from London, where he’s been holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy for months, fighting extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges.

JULIAN ASSANGE, Founder, WikiLeaks: Every person has the right to seek and receive political asylum. Those rights are enshrined in United Nations agreements, of which the United States is a party.

MARGARET WARNER: Assange said Snowden too has applied for political asylum in Ecuador and other countries. Ecuador confirmed that and said it is considering his application.