LONDON (AP) — The British government has warned airlines around the world not to allow Edward Snowden, who leaked information on top-secret U.S. government surveillance programs, to fly to the United Kingdom.
A travel alert, dated Monday on a Home Office letterhead, said carriers should deny Snowden boarding because "the individual is highly likely to be refused entry to the U.K."
The Associated Press saw a photograph of the document taken Friday at a Thai airport. A British diplomat confirmed that the document was genuine and was sent out to airlines around the world. Airlines in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore also confirmed the alert had been issued.
In this photo released by Arthit Suriyawongkul, a U.K. Home Office Carrier Alert notice about NSA leaker Edward Snowden is seen at an airline check-in counter at Chiang Mai airport in Thailand, Friday, June 14, 2013. A British diplomat confirmed the British government issued the alert to airlines around the world, urging them not to allow Snowden to board flights to the United Kingdom. (AP)
In London, Home Office officials refused Friday to discuss the travel alert.
The diplomat said such alerts are issued to carriers that fly into the U.K., and if any airline brings Snowden into the country, it will be liable to be fined 2,000 British pounds ($3,100). He said Snowden would likely have been deemed by the Home Office to be detrimental to the "public good."
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the matter publicly. The U.K. Border Agency, which operates under the Home Office, has wide leeway to deny entry to people trying to enter the United Kingdom. It has been used to keep radical preachers and extreme right-wing politicians out of Britain.
The document titled "RALON Carrier Alert 15/13" has a photograph of Snowden and gave his date of birth and U.S. passport number. It said: "If this individual attempts to travel to the U.K.: Carriers should deny boarding." It warned that carriers may "be liable to costs relating to the individual's detention and removal" should they allow him to travel.
"Carrier alerts" are issued when the U.K. government wants to deny entry to people who don't normally need visas to enter the country, as is the case with most U.S. citizens, or already have visas but something has happened since they were issued, the diplomat said.
A Bangkok Airways officer said the airline was notified on Thursday about the alert by the Airports of Thailand PCL, which operates national airports throughout the country. She said the notice wasn't intended to be seen by the public.
National carrier Malaysia Airlines said in an emailed statement to the AP that it had also received the British advisory and issued notices to all its operating locations in the country. Singapore Airlines also received the alert.
Snowden, 29, revealed himself Sunday as the source of top-secret documents about U.S. National Security Agency surveillance programs that were reported earlier by the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers. He is believed to be in Hong Kong. Snowden, an American citizen, has yet to be publicly charged with any crime and no known warrants have been issued for his arrest.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters in Dublin on Friday that the case was still being investigated, but said he is "confident that the person who is responsible will be held accountable."
Experts believe Snowden's travel options are narrow because of the intense publicity generated by the case and the wide circulation of his photo, which is also contained on the carrier alert.
It isn't clear if other Western European countries have also alerted airlines not to bring Snowden into their countries. Officials in France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands said they have not issued any warnings about possible travel by Snowden. In Amsterdam, foreign ministry spokesman Weibe Alkema said the government would execute an arrest warrant for Snowden if one had been issued.
At one point, Snowden expressed an interest in seeking refuge in Iceland, but the government there said no contact had been made.
Even without criminal charges, Snowden's world is now shrinking. If other countries follow Britain's example and bar his entry, Snowden would have few options if he weren't allowed to stay in his preferred sanctuary of Hong Kong, a semiautonomous Chinese territory.
China has not made any public comment on what it plans to do with Snowden or how long he would be welcome to stay in Hong Kong. A popular Communist Party-backed newspaper, however, has urged China's leadership to milk Snowden for information rather than expel him, saying his revelations concern China's national interest.
If the U.S. eventually calls for his return, Snowden does have the option of applying for asylum or refugee status in Hong Kong, which maintains a Western-style legal system. If Snowden chose to fight it, his extradition to the U.S. could take years to make its way through Hong Kong's courts.
[Doksone reported from Bangkok. Sylvia Hui and Jill Lawless in London and Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin contributed to this report.]
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