NSA whistleblower Ed Snowden can fly the friendly skies all he likes, President Obama has said, since the US won't send out jets to intercept his flight or engage in diplomatic arm twisting over extradition.
"I'm not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker," Obama said at a press conference during an official visit to Senegal. (Poor briefing, Mr. President; Snowden celebrated his 30th solar orbit last week.)
"I'm not going to have one case with a suspect who we're trying to extradite suddenly be elevated to the point where I've got to start doing wheeling and dealing and trading on a whole host of other issues, simply to get a guy extradited so he can face the justice system," Obama said.
The classified information Snowden leaked will inspire a "healthy effective debate" on privacy and on internal security systems within the NSA, Obama said. But Snowden's extradition would be "not exceptional from a legal perspective."
"I get why it's a fascinating story from a press perspective. And I'm sure there will be a made-for-TV movie somewhere down the line. But in terms of US interests, the damage was done with respect to the initial leaks," he said.
The president said that that Snowden's original hosting in Hong Kong had "unquestionably" set back Sino-American relations (presumably not least because of Snowden's evidence related to US hacking Chinese mobile networks.) But he claimed that he hadn't personally spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin or Chinese President Xi Jinping about Snowden, saying he "shouldn't have to."
Obama said he was concerned that Snowden could have more documents in his possession, and this was the reason for the need to get Snowden into custody. But Obama told the press that he was confident that the surveillance programs were conducted properly under the law and with full judicial oversight.
Snowden is currently believed to be holed up in the transit section of Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport, and Obama warned Vladimir Putin's regime and any other government considering giving Snowden refuge to "recognize that they are a part of an international community and they should be abiding by international law," although he did note the US doesn't have an extradition treaty with Russia.
It had been expected that Snowden would fly from Russia to Cuba, but since standard routes would take him over US airspace it appears those plans have been cancelled. Obama said that he knows of no orders to scramble military intercepts for any flight he was on, and El Reg is sure – with the benefit of plausible deniability – he means it.
There is of course always the possibility that the US might not be willing to fund such a scramble in the first place, after the budget sequester kicked in. A single hour of flight in an F-22 costs $68,362 and the aircraft requires a month's rebuilding after 300 hours in the air. Curse you, Congress! ®