Snowden Extradition a Global Issue
Snowden Extradition a Global Issue

The case of Edward Snowden, a NSA contractor who leaked government information regarding the U.S. government programs PRISM and Tempora, reveals how domestic issues can quickly turn global. Upon releasing the classified information about these programs to a London-based newspaper, The Guardian, Snowden fled to Hong Kong to avoid prosecution and detainment. Four days later, in an unsealed official complaint against Snowden, federal prosecutors charged him with “theft of government property” and other activities under the Espionage Act (Politico, 2013).

While the U.S. government will face public backlash for spying on American citizens, its ability to actually prosecute Snowden is limited by international law. Snowden first took refuge in Hong Kong because of its “strong tradition of free speech” and his desire to let the city decide his fate (Lam, 2013). After the U.S. requested the detainment of Snowden in Hong Kong, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange began aiding Snowden and claimed he was leaving Hong Kong to go to Ecuador. However, it was later revealed that Snowden traveled to Moscow, further complicating any attempts at extradition back to the U.S.

U.S. Relations and Extradition

The ability of a government to extradite its citizens often depends on political whims rather than international obligations. The U.S. expressed disappointment over Hong Kong officials’ failure to comply with their request to detain Snowden. The White House stated that their actions would hurt already tense U.S.-Chinese relations (Chan, 2013). The U.S.’s inability to detain one of its own citizens demonstrates the challenges that governments faces whenever a person seeks asylum abroad, especially in countries that do not have the same laws or values as the U.S. In fleeing to Moscow, Snowden picked another country that has troubled relations with the U.S. government, especially in recent months. This relationship might impact the Russian’s government’s decision to turn Snowden over to the U.S., which could further hurt attempts to rebuild the relationship between the two countries.

While President Obama acknowledged that he has not personally contacted the Russian government, he expects that they will “recognize that they are part of an international community and that they should be abiding by international law.” If the Russians do not extradite Snowden, Obama does not plan to go to extremes to secure his extradition (Halper, 2013). On a related note, revealing how closely politics is tied to economics, the Ecuadorian government has renounced hundreds of millions of dollars in trade tariffs that were being considered for renewal by the U.S., claiming that they had become “an instrument of blackmail,” it was discovered that Snowden was considering asylum in the Ecuador after Russia (Maceda, 2013). Obama though made it clear that he would not consider using trade as leverage to secure Snowden’s extradition (Benac, 2013).

In another example of how the case has taken on international importance, the Ecuadorian government provided Snowden with a refugee document that allowed him to travel, even when his U.S. passport was revoked. The U.S. has a longstanding history of extraditing criminals, including seven in the last two years, back to Russia, which they hope will be taken into consideration by Russia, as well as a desire to improve relations. Further, other leaders in Europe have come out in support of Snowden, with the leader of the opposition party in Germany suggesting he be granted safe haven (Reuters, 2013).


Whether Edward Snowden is extradited back to the U.S. in the coming months will depend upon a variety of factors. These include, whether the country where he resides shares the same values, has a relationship or history with the U.S. for extradition, and whether international bodies such as the U.N. condone it. As it stands the U.S. Justice Department faces many obstacles in securing his return. So far, no foreign government is willing to extradite Snowden.

The U.S. government may also want to avoid another Bradley Manning situation, where Manning was apprehended after leaking documents and detained without a trial, generating a large public outcry. The U.S. may have to use other tactics besides diplomacy to persuade foreign powers, such as trade or security agreements, since extradition is not always based on legal obligations but political whims (Dorell, 2013).

These methods could be a powerful, yet undesirable form of coercion especially as the Obama administration seeks to improve its image after the fallout from Snowden’s leaks exposed the reach of its spying activities and the broad base of Democrats who are sympathetic to Snowden. Further, it is in the best interest of the U.S. not to increase tensions with global superpowers Russia and China. Meanwhile the U.S. still requires Russia’s support in brokering a peace in Syria and maintaining a good relationship with China because of its importance as a trading partner (Benac, 2013). Snowden’s actions could set a precedent for other potential leakers who can escape conviction by fleeing to countries who do not maintain close relationships with the U.S.

Works Cited

Benac, N. (2013, June 28). Obama recasts chase for Snowden as unexceptional. Associated  Press. Retrieved from:

Dorell, O. (2013, June 25). Snowden extradition depends on politics. USA Today. Retrieved from:

Halper, D. (2013, June 27). Obama hasn’t called Russians, Chinese about Snowden. The Weekly  Standard. Retrieved from:

Lam, L. (2013, June 15). Whistle-blower Edward Snowden tells SCMP: ‘Let Hong Kong people decide my fate’. South China Morning Post. Retrieved from:

Maceda, J. (2013, June 27). Obama: not ‘scrambling jets’ to get NSA leaker Snowden. NBC News.  Retrieved from:

Miller, S. A. (2013, June 27). Edward Snowden once wrote that traitors who spill state secrets ought to be shot. New York Post. Retrieved from: K

Politico. (2013, June 21). Document: Edward Snowden unsealed complaint. Retrieved from:

Reuters. (2013, July 01). Snowden should get safe haven in Europe. Reuters. Retrieved from:

Shane, S. (2013, June 23). Offering Snowden aid, Wikileaks gets back in the game. The New York  Times. Retrieved from:


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