Airlines have been warned by the Home Office not to fly the CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden to Britain as he would be turned away on arrival.
The move signals the Government’s determination to avoid a repeat of the controversy over the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who has been living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for nearly a year, after being granted asylum by the South American nation.
Mr Snowden, a former CIA contractor, is in hiding after admitting being the source of classified documents that revealed the huge extent of US surveillance operations. His current whereabouts is unknown after he disappeared from a Hong Kong hotel this week.
He has not yet been charged with any offence, but the US Government looks certain to attempt to bring him back to the US to face criminal charges. The US Attorney General, Eric Holder, said: “I can assure you we will hold accountable the person who is responsible for these extremely damaging leaks.
“The national security of the United States has been damaged as a result of these leaks. The safety of the American people, the safety of the people who reside in allied nations have been put at risk as a result of these leaks.”
Mr Snowden, 29, a former technical assistant at the CIA, revealed himself as the source of top-secret documents about the National Security Agency’s monitoring of phone and internet data after he quit his job with the security contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.
His revelations about the Prism programme provoked uproar on both sides of the Atlantic. Foreign Secretary William Hague was forced to give a statement to MPs after the disclosure this month that data collected by NSA was shared with GCHQ in Cheltenham. Mr Hague insisted all GCHQ operations had been legal.
There is no evidence Mr Snowden wants to travel to Britain, but the Home Office has written to major international airlines to make clear he would not be welcome in this country. They have been told: “Carriers should deny boarding. This individual is highly likely to be refused entry to the UK.” The letter contains Mr Snowden’s photograph, passport number and date of birth. It warns that airlines which allow Mr Snowden to fly could be fined and liable to the costs of detaining and removing him from Britain.
The Home Secretary, Theresa May, has powers to turn away foreign nationals whose presence in the UK is deemed “detrimental to the public good”. The Home Office refused to comment on the letter sent out by the Risk and Liaison Overseas Network, part of UK Border Agency.
But a British official confirmed its authenticity and told Associated Press it was dispatched to airlines. It is not clear if other governments had issued similar warnings to carriers. Civil liberties groups will today protest in Hong Kong in support of Mr Snowden.
The European Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding said yesterday US security measures should not be conducted at the expense of the public’s rights. She said there were still “fundamental issues” over the use of Prism against targets in Europe.
Where next? Snowden's options
Vladimir Putin has hinted that the whistleblower could be given asylum. The Russian President’s spokesman has said: “If we receive such a request, it will be considered.”
Snowden named Iceland when he said his “predisposition is to seek asylum in a country with shared values”. He explained: “They stood up for people over internet freedom.”
The South American nation granted asylum last year to the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, right, who is still holed up in its London embassy.
Surprisingly, Venezuela has an extradition treaty with the US, but its leadership is deeply hostile to the American government.
It has no extradition treaty with the US, which is why it shelters the film director Roman Polanski, who fled America rather than face a judge after admitting sex with a 13-year-old.