Iceland received informal approach over Snowden seeking asylum

REYKJAVIK Tue Jun 18, 2013 10:44am EDT

A bus passes by a poster of Edward Snowden, a former contractor at the National Security Agency (NSA), displayed by his supporters at Hong Kong's financial Central district during the midnight hours of June 18, 2013, while Snowden is engaged in a live chat online believed to be in Hong Kong. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

A bus passes by a poster of Edward Snowden, a former contractor at the National Security Agency (NSA), displayed by his supporters at Hong Kong's financial Central district during the midnight hours of June 18, 2013, while Snowden is engaged in a live chat online believed to be in Hong Kong.

Credit: Reuters/Bobby Yip

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REYKJAVIK (Reuters) - Iceland has received an informal approach from an intermediary who says Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who exposed the U.S. government's secret surveillance programs, wants to seek asylum there.

Snowden, the former employee of contractor Booz Allen Hamilton who worked in an NSA facility in Hawaii, made world headlines after providing details of the program to the Guardian and Washington Post and then fleeing to Hong Kong.

In a column in Icelandic daily Frettabladid, WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson wrote that a middleman had approached him on behalf of Snowden.

"On 12 June, I received a message from Edward Snowden where he asked me to notify the Icelandic government that he wanted to seek asylum in Iceland," Hrafnsson, who is also an investigative journalist in Iceland, told Reuters.

The Icelandic government, which has refused to say whether they would grant asylum to Snowden, confirmed it had received the message from Hrafnsson.

"Kristinn Hrafnsson has contacted two ministries in an informal way but not the ministers. There has been no formal approach in this matter," a government spokesman said.

Hrafnsson declined to name the go-between to Reuters.

Snowden has mentioned Iceland as a possible refuge.

Iceland has a reputation for promoting Internet freedoms, but Snowden has said did not travel there immediately from the United States as he feared the country of only 320,000 could be pressured by Washington.

"Iceland could be pushed harder, quicker, before the public could have a chance to make their feelings known, and I would not put that past the current U.S. administration," Snowden said in an online forum in the Guardian on Monday.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning over allegations of sex crimes, visited Iceland several times in the run-up to some of the website's major releases. Assange denies any wrongdoing.

WikiLeaks won a ruling this year in Iceland's Supreme Court against MasterCard's local partner. The court upheld a lower court's ruling that the payment card firm had illegally ended its contract with the website. Wikileaks' funding had been squeezed without the ability to accept card payments.

(Reporting by Robert Robertson; Writing by Alistair Scrutton; Editing by Patrick Lannin and Alison Williams)

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