Cites examples of ‘high profile’ criminals sent back to Russia

The White House appeared to be ramping up back-channel pressure on Russia by insisting that there was a “clear legal basis” to expel whistleblower Edward Snowden, the man behind unprecedented disclosures through The Guardian and The Washington Post on covert mass Internet surveillance by National Security Agency (NSA).

“We agree with President Putin that we do not want this issue to negatively impact our bilateral relations,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden, adding, “While we do not have an extradition treaty with Russia, there is nonetheless a clear legal basis to expel Mr. Snowden, based on the status of his travel documents and the pending charges against him.”

With the U.S. last week revoking the passport of Mr. Snowden, who formerly worked at the NSA as an employee of consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, his legal status in the “no-man’s land” — international transit section of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport — is unclear. Reports say he is attempting to board a flight to Cuba and then on to Ecuador, where he is said to have filed an application for asylum.

However, State Department Spokesman Patrick Ventrell told media on Tuesday that Washington was aware comments by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin, and “While we do not have an extradition treaty with Russia and do not expect that Mr. Snowden would be formally extradited, we do believe there is a basis for law enforcement cooperation to expel Mr. Snowden based on the charges against him and the status of his travel documents.”

He suggested that the Snowden case would be similar to those of high-profile criminals routinely extradited or expelled from the U.S. and returned to Russia, specifically noting that there may have been “many hundreds [of such transferees] over the past years”.

State Department officials confirmed that they had “asked the Russian Government to consider all potential options to expel him, to return him to the U.S., and we’re going to continue those discussions in law enforcement and diplomatic channels in the hopes of building on the strong law enforcement cooperation that we’ve had for quite some time.”

Greenwald’s concerns

The calibrated increase in pressure on Moscow by American diplomats came even as reports surfaced that the reporter at the centre of The Guardian exposé, Glenn Greenwald, spoke about a stolen laptop.

In a report in the Daily Beast, Eli Lake wrote that Mr. Greenwald said he was taking extra precautions against the prospect that he was now a target of U.S. surveillance. He says this follows an incident when he told his partner via Skype that he would send an electronic encrypted copy of the documents provided by Mr. Snowden.

Though Mr. Greenwald did not send the files, “Two days later his laptop was stolen from our house and nothing else was taken,” he said, adding, “Nothing like that has happened before. I am not saying it’s connected to this, but obviously the possibility exists... I would be shocked if the U.S. government were not trying to access the information on my computer.”

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