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Julian Assange says Edward Snowden 'healthy and safe,' calls to keep focus on leaks

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WikiLeaks' Julian Assange has confirmed the safety of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks member Sarah Harrison, saying that he is currently applying for asylum in Ecuador, Iceland, and possibly other countries. "The current status of Mr. Snowden and Ms. Harrison: both are healthy and safe, and they are in contact with a legal team," he said. "I cannot give further information as to their whereabouts or present circumstances except to say that the matter is in hand." He said that although Snowden's passport had been revoked, he was granted a refugee travel document by Ecuador, though this does not imply that he will ultimately be granted refugee status.

Ecuador's foreign minister confirmed earlier that Snowden had applied for asylum in the country. Julian Assange was previously granted asylum from Ecuador; he currently resides in its UK embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning in two sexual assault allegations and possible arrest for publishing confidential diplomatic cables in 2010. WikiLeaks attorney Michael Ratner believes that Ecuador has good reason to grant Snowden status as a political refugee. "Whistleblowers are people who are protected by the refugee convention under the idea that they're being persecuted for political opinion," he said, noting that WikiLeaks lawyers had helped draft Snowden's asylum application. Assange denied that Snowden had been debriefed by Russian intelligence agencies on his journey through Moscow.

"Edward Snowden is not a traitor. He is not a spy."

"Edward Snowden is not a traitor. He is not a spy. He is a whistleblower who has told the public an important truth," said Assange. He declined to say where Snowden is right now, confirming his safety only because of bellicose statements from US lawmakers. WikiLeaks representatives also cautioned against turning Snowden, rather than NSA surveillance, into the story. "What we're seeing is looking at the person who is the whistleblower rather than really discussing what we should be discussing, which is massive worldwide surveillance," said Ratner. They turned attention to Bradley Manning, who is currently on trial under the Espionage Act for leaking the diplomatic cables and has been imprisoned for years.

Assange said Snowden had not expressed regret for coming forward, though it could derail discussion of the surveillance programs themselves. His decision, said Assange, was likely an attempt to keep himself safe. "In a situation where the US government perceived, wrongly or rightly, that eliminating Mr. Snowden would eliminate the exposure of its worldwide spying program, the kidnapping or incapacitating of Mr. Snowden must have been considered. So I believe Mr. Snowden was well advised to go public at the time that he did, in order to protect his personal safety and the safety of the journalists involved."

While Assange and others decried what they described as an overgrown surveillance program and praised Snowden's work, they did not reveal what further documents he might have. Assange said that "more information was likely to appear" about specific countries' and companies' surveillance efforts, but he did not specify that it would come from Snowden or WikiLeaks. Snowden and The Guardian recently revealed a British intelligence program that they say collects information from companies by tapping directly into fiber-optic lines.