Julian Assange(Photo: Anthony Devlin, AFP/Getty Images)
UNDATED (USAToday.com) - Australian native and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has managed to orchestrate the country-hopping flight of a accused U.S. spy despite being holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, surrounded by British bobbies under orders to extradite him to Sweden on rape charges.
Assange, who once published thousands of illegally obtained U.S. government diplomatic communications on his website, acknowledged Monday that he is coordinating efforts to help NSA leaker Edward Snowden evade U.S. justice.
An Assange deputy, Sarah Harrison of Britain, helped make arrangements for Snowden to take flight from Hong Kong to Moscow and arrived with him in Russia to help him obtain political asylum in a third country.
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In Hong Kong, WikiLeaks enlisted the assistance of a Hong Kong lawmaker to represent Snowden's interests, according to the South China Morning Post. He said his organization is providing Snowden with legal assistance and paying for his travel and lodging.
It's likely no coincidence that it is Ecuador that has stepped forward to consider granting Snowden asylum in its country. Assange has been living in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since June 2012.
He fled there and was granted safe haven after a British appeals court ruled he must be returned to Sweden, which has charged him with raping two women. Assange said Snowden left the Chinese island territory of Hong Kong with a "refugee document of passage'' issued by the Ecuadorean government.
"I have personal sympathy with Mr. Snowden having gone through a very similar situation," Assange said in a conference call with reporters Monday.
Assange said Snowden sought to expose government abuses of personal rights and "WikiLeaks' goal is to bring this kind of information to the public."
Assange noted that WikiLeaks has years of experience dealing with threats from U.S. officials, "particularly we have experience dealing with precisely the kind of situation that Mr. Snowden finds himself in."
When Assange published the a trove of 250,000 classified diplomatic cables and other documents in 2010 he was criticized by the United States and others for giving out secret information that would aid terrorists. He said he was doing so to expose fresh news of U.S. crimes in Afghanistan, but no such crimes were revealed in the cables.
Similarly, Snowden has said he revealed the existence of the NSA programs to expose criminal behavior and unethical spying. Yet the programs have been ruled legal by the federal courts, are overseen by judges for their constitutionality and monitored by members of House and Senate committees. No crimes have been specified.
And the choice of Ecuador as intermediary is ironic. Assange says he is acting as a journalist seeking government transparency, yet Ecuador has been criticized by Reporters Without Borders and others for jailing and intimidating journalists and broadcasters who are critical of the government.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said Assange is only able to help Snowden because of support he's getting from anti-U.S. nations like Ecuador, "where press freedoms are trampled upon."
"It's pathetic that whistleblower looks to press oppressor nations for transit and refuge," said Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Middle East and South Asia.
Assange has said the rape charges against him are false and a pretext to deliver him into U.S. custody. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, who admitted providing Assange with the documents, is being court-martialed on charges of aiding the enemy.
Assange called Snowden "an American and a patriot" whose "actions result from concern for the people of the United States."