President Barack Obama, traveling abroad in Africa, dismissed concerns about Edward Snowden, who leaked details of National Security Agency surveillance programs and is seeking asylum in Ecuador. Obama said he was “not scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker” and said that most of the damage had been done in Snowden’s initial leaks.
That is at odds with the assessment of U.S. intelligence officials at home, who told the Wall Street Journal that Snowden is a greater risk the longer he is on the run.
Snowden has taken shelter in Chinese-administered Hong Kong and in the international transit area of Russia’s main airport. He has told the Chinese government about U.S. hacking operations against it, and has a distributed encrypted copies of data he downloaded from the NSA so that it would not be seized if he were captured.
Both Russia and China are growing geopolitical rivals to the U.S., and have a keen and active interest both in hacking U.S. security systems and discouraging U.S. intelligence efforts to do the same.
Obama mocked public interest in Snowden and the NSA scandal as a “made-for-TV movie.” Yet the scandal is also a source of embarrassment for the White House, and criticism is beginning to mount about the inability of his administration to encourage other countries to cooperate with its requests to apprehend Snowden. Hong Kong, which has an extradition treaty with the U.S., ignored a specific request from the U.S. government and allowed Snowden to leave.
Obama remains in Africa through the beginning of next week.