With Julian Assange Taking the Spotlight, Edward Snowden's Future Looks Grim

Matt Berman
National Journal

In a rare interview on Sunday's This Week, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange didn't say where NSA leaker Edward Snowden is, and didn't say where he was immediately going. But he did say one thing quite clearly: He, Julian Assange, is a lot like Edward Snowden.

Asked by host George Stephanopoulos about Snowden's future, Assange said that Snowden's "situation is very similar to the situation that I face." He said that, like WikiLeaks, Snowden is being faced with rhetoric about the dangers of leaks that, for WikiLeaks, were "all proved to be false."

Faced with a question about a leaked quote in TIME Magazine, where Assange said that with his WikiLeaks revelations he hoped to bring about "the total annihilation of the current U.S. regime" and if that is still his goal today, Assange denied that he ever said that, with a sterling defense of "Yeah, well, I mean TIME Magazine."

The really ominous part of the interview came when Assange was asked whether or not he possessed Snowden's NSA documents: "Look, there is no stopping the publishing process at this stage. Great care has been taken to make sure Mr. Snowden cannot be pressured by any state to stop the publication process."

But there are serious problems with the Julian Assange Takeover, and they are quickly boiling up. Last week, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa slowed down Snowden's asylum process because he was worried that the WikiLeaks leader was taking over the role of his country's government. The Guardianreported that Correa killed a temporary travel document that would have helped get Snowden out of the Moscow airport where he has reportedly been staying for the last week. In leaked communications, Ecuador officials seemed bitter by how much attention Assange was taking, with a Ecuador's U.S. ambassador telling a presidential spokesman "I suggest talking to Assange to better control the communications. From outside, [Assange] appears to be running the show."

On Sunday, President Correa told the Associated Press that Snowden is "under the care of the Russian authorities" and that Snowden "doesnt have a passport. I don't know the Russian laws, I don't know if he can leave the airport, but I understand that he can't." To further complicate Ecuador's role, Correa said that the Ecuadorean consul in London made a "serious error" in not consulting anyone in Ecuador before issuing Snowden a letter of safe passage. Correa said that if Snowden does make it to an Ecuadorian Embassy, "we'll analyze his request for asylum."

Assange, for his part, criticized interference from the U.S. in Snowden's asylum search on Sunday, saying that "Joseph Biden, the day before yesterday, personally called President Correa trying to pressure him. That's not acceptable." On Sunday, Correa said that his government would "analyize [Biden's] opinion, which is very important to us...I greatly appreciated the call."

The increasingly cold-feet are coming from a nation that knows Assange well: Assange has been camped out in Ecuador's embassy in London for over a year as a means of avoiding extradition. Just two weeks ago, Ecuador's foreign minister even paid Assange a visit.

And tensions over Snowden and Assange in Ecuador aren't just at the governmental level. With the Obama administration threatening to keep in place tariffs on rose imports from Ecuador, flower growers in the country have a direct financial interest in the outcome of Snowden's flight. "We can't put the interests of 14 million Ecuadoreans at risk because of a 29-year-old hacker whom we don't even know," Gino Descalzi, who employees 280 people in the rose business, told the AP. "This gentleman doesn't mean anything to us."