National Security Agency (NSA) document leaker Edward Snowden, who turned 30 on Friday, has gotten a birthday present from WikiLeaks: The offer of a chartered flight from Hong Kong to Iceland, should he want to lodge an in-person asylum request.
"Everything is ready on our side and the plane could take off tomorrow," Icelandic businessman Olafur Sigurvinsson told the country's Channel 2 television, reported AFP.
Sigurvinsson said the jet belongs to a Chinese firm, and the costs of chartering it – more than $240,000 -- were paid for via contributions from individuals, with DataCell and WikiLeaks acting as middlemen.
"We have really done all we can do. We have a plane and all the logistics in place. Now we are only awaiting a response from the [Icelandic] government," said Sigurvinsson, who's a director of DataCell, an ethical data hosting provider based in Reykjavik, Iceland, that counts WikiLeaks as a client.
[ Is Edward Snowden a hero, a traitor, or somewhere in between? See NSA Prism Whistleblower Snowden Deserves A Medal. ]
This isn't the first time DataCell has worked on WikiLeaks' behalf. The company recently took a lawsuit against Valitor, a local processor of Visa and MasterCard payments, to the country's Supreme Court -- and won. DataCell had sued Valitor over its refusal to process funds donated to WikiLeaks, and the court ruled that the refusal ruled unlawful. A similar case is pending in Denmark.
WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson this week said that a middleman for Snowden had approached him, requesting he work to secure asylum for Snowden in Iceland. The Office of the Minister of the Interior of Iceland confirmed that it received the communication from Hrafnsson, but otherwise declined to comment, and hasn't said whether it's inclined to grant the asylum request or not.
So despite having a jet on standby, it's unlikely that Snowden would fly to Iceland without receiving further assurances from the country's government. "We need to get confirmation of asylum and that he will not be extradited to the U.S. We would most want him to get a citizenship as well," Sigurvinsson told Reuters.
Similarly, Birgitta Jonsdottir, a lawmaker for Iceland's Pirate Party and WikiLeaks ally who's offered Snowden assistance with his asylum bid, said he should first obtain Icelandic citizenship before attempting to travel to the country, since "political backing for him is not secure."
Snowden arrived in Hong Kong on May 20, saying that he hoped to stay there for the short term. Longer term, he said, "My predisposition is to seek asylum in a country with shared values." He continued, "The nation that most encompasses this is Iceland. They stood up for people over Internet freedom. I have no idea what my future is going to be." He explained that the reason he didn't initially fly to Iceland was because he feared the country would be pressured by Washington to deport him.
To date, the U.S. government has apparently filed no charges against Snowden, although authorities may have already have charged him via a sealed indictment. At least two investigations are underway into his disclosure of secret NSA documents, which have led to the public outing of multiple surveillance programs, including Prism, as well as the secret guidelines used by NSA analysts to handle intercepted data.
Besides helping to facilitate funding for the chartered jet, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said he's been in contact with Snowden's representatives.
In other WikiLeaks news, the film "We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks," topped the movie-ranking charts last week. But unfortunately for Universal Studios, which financed the documentary film about Assange -- directed by Alex Gibney -- the movie took fourth place in the week's list of most-pirated films on BitTorrent. At the box office, however, the picture was decidedly more dismal, with BoxOfficeMojo.com reporting that by Wednesday, almost four weeks after its release, film had registered only $164,500 in U.S. ticket sales.
Still, some market research may have tipped off Universal about the likely outcome. Notably, an unauthorized autobiography of Julian Assange, published in 2011 in Britain by Canongate, sold only 633 copies in the first three days of its release, which was backed by no marketing campaign by Canongate.
By comparison, Gibney's movie received a surge of free publicity in the form of WikiLeaks blasting the movie for its "factual inaccuracies," including portraying Assange as a co-conspirator with Pfc. Bradley Manning, who's currently standing trial on charges of having leaked documents to Assange's organization. WikiLeaks, which published an annotated transcript of the film, further blasted the film's title, which refers to a quote from the former director of the NSA and CIA, Michael Hayden, and said any suggestion that WikiLeaks had stolen secrets was "irresponsible libel."
Meanwhile, Assange, who's still wanted for questioning in Sweden on rape charges, Wednesday celebrated the one-year anniversary of his sojourn in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. British authorities have promised to arrest him the moment he should emerge. But Assange said he's prepared to remain in the embassy for at least another five years, if necessary, and said he won't emerge even if Sweden drops the charges against him.
"We know there is an ongoing investigation in the U.S. and we know I am a target of the Federal grand jury. There is a 99.97% chance that I will be indicted," he told reporters Wednesday, reported the Evening Standard.
"So if the Swedish government drops their request tomorrow," Assange added, "I still cannot leave the embassy."