A plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales was forced into making an unscheduled stop in Austria after France and Portugal denied the plane passage over their airspace on the belief that document leaker Edward Snowden was on board, reports say.
President Morales was returning home to Bolivia from a visit to Moscow when the plane had to be diverted to Vienna, the BBC reported on Tuesday. It wasn't immediately clear how or why the plane was forced to land in Austria.
The BBC quoted Bolivian foreign minister David Choquehuanca as denying that Snowden was on board the flight, and expressing outrage over the incident. "We don't know who invented this lie, but we want to denounce to the international community this injustice with the plane of President Evo Morales," Choquehuanca told the BBC.
Morales had earlier expressed his willingness to offer asylum to Snowden. In comments made to Russia Today (RT) television, Morales had criticized America's "espionage network," which he claimed was being used particularly against developing countries.
"I know that the empires have an espionage network and are against the so-called developing countries. And in particular, against those which are rich in natural resources," RT quoted Morales as saying. "Bolivia as well as Venezuela and Ecuador are exposed to constant surveillance from the U.S. Empire," Morales told RT's Spanish language affiliate.
In the interview, Morales asserted that if Snowden applied for asylum in Bolivia, the request would be considered favorably.
The Bolivian President's unscheduled stop in Austria is the latest wrinkle in what's turning out to be a saga that could have been written by a Hollywood scriptwriter.
Snowden, a former Booz Allen Hamilton employee, is wanted in the U.S. on charges that he violated provisions of the Espionage Act of 1917. Last month, he confessed that he had illegally accessed and leaked to the media several documents describing highly classified U.S. surveillance programs by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the FBI.
Since then, Snowden has been on the run. He first holed up in Hong Kong for several days, and then flew to Moscow accompanied by a high-profile lawyer from Julian Assange's WikiLeaks organization. He has been in the transit area of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport for the past 10 days.
Snowden filed and then withdrew an application for asylum in Russia. He has also applied for asylum to more than 20 countries, a majority of which have said they would be unable to consider his request unless he makes it in person from within their territories.
The countries that Snowden has applied for asylum include France, Poland, China, Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, India, Italy, Venezuela and Germany. Brazil and India have already rejected the request outright, and Poland has said it would reject it as well. Ecuador, which initially seemed to be Snowden's best bet, appears to have lost its enthusiasm as well.
In an interview with The Guardian newspaper, Ecuador's President, Rafeal Correa, expressed regret over his country's role in providing temporary travel papers to Snowden after the U.S. had revoked his passport. Snowden has accused the U.S. of exerting unfair pressure on other nation's to turn him over.
In a statement on Wikileaks, Snowden pointed to a statement by President Barack Obama that the U.S. government will not engage in diplomatic "wheeling and dealing" to get him back to the United States. "Yet know it is being reported that after promising not to do so, the President ordered his Vice President to pressure the leaders of nations from which I have requested protection to deny my asylum petitions," Snowden said in the statement.
Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed. His e-mail address is [email protected]