Accompanying Mr. Snowden on the Aeroflot airliner that carried him on Sunday from Hong Kong to Moscow continuing a global cat and mouse chase that might have been borrowed from a Hollywood screenplay was a British WikiLeaks activist Sarah Harrison. The group s founder Julian Assange who has been given refuge for the last year in Ecuador s embassy in London met last week with Ecuador s foreign minister to support Mr. Snowden s asylum request. And Baltasar G rzon the legal director of WikiLeaks and a former Spanish judge is leading a volunteer legal team advising him on how to stay out of an American prison.
Mr. Snowden requested our expertise and assistance Mr. Assange said in a telephone interview from London on Sunday night. We ve been involved in very similar legal and diplomatic and geopolitical struggles to preserve the organization and its ability to publish.
By Mr. Assange s account the group helped obtain and deliver a special refugee travel document to Mr. Snowden in Hong Kong that with his American passport revoked may now be crucial in his bid to travel onward from Moscow.
More broadly WikiLeaks brought to global attention the model that Mr. Snowden has wholeheartedly embraced that of the conscience stricken national security worker who takes his concerns not to his boss or other official channels but to the public.
The group s assistance for Mr. Snowden shows that despite its shoestring staff limited fund raising from a boycott by major financial firms and defections prompted by Mr. Assange s personal troubles and abrasive style it remains a force to be reckoned with on the global stage.
As an act of international quasi diplomatic intrigue it s impressive Steven Aftergood director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists said of WikiLeaks role in Mr. Snowden s flight. It s an extraordinary turn of events.
The antisecrecy advocates are themselves secretive Mr. Assange said he could not reveal the number of paid staffers at WikiLeaks because of assassination threats or its budget because of the banking blockade but the group has dedicated volunteers in several countries notably Britain and Iceland and a large number of supporters.
Since publishing the military and diplomatic documents in 2009 and 2010 that made it famous the group has released several lower profile collections documents on commercial spying equipment internal e mails of an American security consulting company Stratfor millions of e mails sent by Syrian government and business officials and a library of cables to and from Henry Kissinger the former secretary of state though most of those were already public.
Mr. Assange said that WikiLeaks which he started in 2006 has a seven year history of publishing documents from every country in the world. He added We ve documented hundreds of thousands of deaths and assassinations billions of dollars of corruption. We ve affected elections and prompted reforms.
WikiLeaks played no role in Mr. Snowden s disclosures of classified documents he took from his job as a National Security Agency contractor. But since joining forces with him WikiLeaks has used his case to boost its profile its Twitter feed on Sunday made an appeal for donations along with news about Mr. Snowden s flight.
Even as Mr. Snowden s odyssey continued the source whose disclosures brought WikiLeaks to broad public attention Pfc. Bradley Manning was in a military cell in the fourth week of his court martial at Fort Meade Md. Private Manning who became disillusioned as an intelligence analyst in Iraq has admitted that he gave WikiLeaks roughly 700 000 confidential government documents. He faces a possible sentence of life in prison if convicted of charges that include espionage and aiding the enemy.