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NSA leaker Ed Snowden may be running out of time in Moscow

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 26, 2013

National Security Agency leaker Edward J. Snowden may be running out of time in Moscow airport, RIA Novosti reported Wednesday, because standard Russian transit visas are valid for only three days.

The news comes as WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy organization that has been assisting Mr. Snowden's efforts to elude the U.S. government, said in a brief statement that he was "safe and well," but gave no details.

Mr. Snowden has been holed up in the transit lounge of Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport since arriving there from Hong Kong at the weekend. RIA Novosti quoted an unnamed spokesman for the Border Guard Service office at the airport as saying, "Looks like he's got a [transit] visa. That's why he's staying here."

The spokesman could not say which of several Russian agencies entitled to issue such visas might have done so.

The White House has said it "expects" Russia to turn Mr. Snowden over to U.S. authorities for prosecution, despite the absence of an extradition treaty.

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin compared hosting Mr. Snowden to shearing a pig.

"There is a lot of squealing," he told reporters in Finland, "But not much wool."

"Mr. Snowden is a free man," the Russian president continued, "The sooner he selects his final destination point, the better both for us and for himself."

Mr. Snowden, who last month fled the NSA facility in Hawaii where he worked as a contract employee, took with him a still-unknown number of highly classified documents that he has been leaking to The Guardian and Washington Post newspapers.

After abruptly leaving Hong Kong Sunday, steps ahead of a U.S. extradition request, Mr. Snowden booked a seat on a Havana-bound flight from Moscow on Monday en route to possible asylum in Ecuador, but he didn't board the plane.

Foreigners need a transit visa if they stay in Russia for more than 24 hours en route to another country, RIA Novosti said.

The visa can be issued on the spot, and the penalty for not having one is a $30 fine. They are valid for three days.

If Mr. Snowden was granted a standard Russian transit visa on Sunday when he arrived, that authorization to remain in the transit lounge at the airport will expire Wednesday, the agency said.

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