- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 25, 2013

It doesn’t look good when the most powerful man in the world can’t get his hands on one of the most wanted men in the world.

Edward Snowden, the confessed National Security Agency leaker, has eluded U.S. authorities since early June, even as President Obama’s administration pleaded with officials in China and Russia to send the fugitive back to America.

SEE ALSO: Vladimir Putin: NSA leaker Ed Snowden a ‘free man’ in Moscow, won’t be sent to U.S.

The traditional rivals of the U.S. have even seemed to enjoy the Obama administration’s distress. Russian President Vladimir Putin declared Mr. Snowden “a free man” Tuesday, confirming that Mr. Snowden had been at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport since Sunday. He explicitly refused to comply with the U.S. request to turn over Mr. Snowden, noting that the two countries don’t have an extradition treaty.

The episode is making the U.S. look weak in the eyes of Russia and China, said Leon Aron, a foreign policy analyst at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute.

“From the point of view of the Russians and the Chinese, definitely,” Mr. Aron said. “In their systems, legitimacy comes from being treated with fear and respect. And clearly, they’re choosing not to treat the United States that way.”

Photographers take pictures as light shines through a cabin window on seat 17A, the empty seat that an Aeroflot official said was booked in the name of former CIA technician and National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, during Aeroflot flight SU150 from Moscow to Havana on June 24, 2013. Confusion over the whereabouts of Snowden grew after the flight flew from Moscow to Cuba with the seat remaining empty. (Associated Press)
Photographers take pictures as light shines through a cabin window on seat ... more >

Asked what options the Obama administration has with Russia, Mr. Aron said simply, “None. Russia is in no hurry.”

SEE ALSO: McCain blasts Putin: ‘Old KGB Colonel Apparatchik’

Mr. Snowden’s next move was uncertain Tuesday evening. His supporters said earlier that he would be on a flight Monday from Moscow to Havana, but that turned out not to be the case.

After leaking information about top-secret U.S. surveillance and data-mining programs to The Guardian, a left-leaning British newspaper, Mr. Snowden outed himself to the world while staying at a hotel in Hong Kong, a special administrative section of China, over which Beijing exercises sovereignty and controls foreign policy.

Mr. Obama’s foreign policy is based on a “pivot” toward Asia and a “reset” of U.S. relations with Russia, but the failure of China and Russia to cooperate on Mr. Snowden underscores the limits of the president’s power. Beijing and Moscow gave their refusals within weeks of Mr. Obama’s one-on-one talks separately with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Mr. Putin on other matters.

James Lewis, a national security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the Obama administration has lost face on the global stage.

“It’s really embarrassing,” Mr. Lewis said. “There’s got to be some effect on U.S. reputation. Here’s NSA, one of the premier intelligence agencies, and a high school dropout is able to remove this stuff on a thumb drive. And then there’s a larger political agenda that [Russia] will take advantage of.”

The Obama administration has been relegated to expressing its frustration with China and assuring Moscow that it doesn’t want a confrontation, and it has had to endure barbs from other foreign governments as well.

China’s top state newspaper praised Mr. Snowden for “tearing off Washington’s sanctimonious mask” and ridiculed the U.S. for hypocrisy when it comes to personal freedoms.

“The United States has gone from a ‘model of human rights’ to ‘an eavesdropper on personal privacy,’ the ‘manipulator’ of the centralised power over the international Internet, and the mad ‘invader’ of other countries’ networks,” the People’s Daily said.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Beijing’s refusal to either arrest Mr. Snowden or keep him in Hong Kong has damaged U.S.-Chinese relations. He accused Beijing of a deliberate lack of cooperation.

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