Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden — the man that made national headlines for leaking classified information about the United States' surveillance program — is leading the U.S. government and mobs of media on what is turning out to be an international chase to nowhere.
Snowden fled Hong Kong, believed bound for Moscow, over the weekend, but seems to have safe harbor in Latin America as his ultimate final destination.
According to a tweet from Ricardo Patiño Aroca, Ecuador's foreign minister, the Ecuadorian government has received an asylum request from Snowden.
It's not clear whether he will make it to Ecuador or another Latin American country — according to a report from The New York Times, Snowden "did not leave Moscow as expected on a flight to Havana on Monday, raising questions about what, if any, alternative travel plans he may have made."
What is clear is that neither the U.S. government nor the media actually know Snowden's whereabouts or future plans.
"A huge plane took off for Havana with I would say half of the Moscow-based press corps on it," said Ellen Barry, Moscow Bureau Chief for the New York Times. "They believed that he was going to be sitting in seat 17A."
There are no photographs of Snowden in Russia and no officials have gone on record saying he was ever in the country, Barry said.
"It felt like we were all chasing shadows." Barry said.
On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed Snowden had arrived at the Russian airport, but said he remains in the transit area, not technically having entered the country. Putin said Russia would neither detain nor extradite Snowden to the United States, but adding he hoped Snowden got on his way soon.
The United States holds influence and maintains a diplomatic relationship with nearly every country in the world, making it difficult for Snowden to find any real safety. When he initially fled to Hong Kong, some wondered why he would chose to be so close to the Chinese government, a nation with strong ties to the United States.
In an online chat facilitated by the Guardian, Snowden said "I had to travel with no advance booking to a country with the cultural and legal framework to allow me to work without being immediately detained. Hong Kong provided that."
Ecuador could be Snowden's link to some high-profile sympathizers. Technically, the country is currently the home of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is currently holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in Britain. That connection may be why Ecuador is said to be formally considering Snowden's request for asylum.
Snowden could find further support from the Ecuadorian people, most of whom back Ecuadroian President Rafael Correa, who spoke out in favor of WikiLeaks and Assange last year.
"There's a certain degree of pride for those who support president Rafael Correa, in as much as they agree that Ecuador should be a kind of safe haven for whistleblowers, should be the sort of place that they believe is backing people who, from their point of view, are important in terms of the freedom of press," said Will Grant, Mexico and Central America correspondent for the BBC.
Snowden had been traveling with WikiLeaks advisor Sarah Harrison, Assange's closest advisor. According to a post on WikiLeaks.org, “Miss Harrison has courageously assisted Mr. Snowden with his lawful departure from Hong Kong and is accompanying Mr. Snowden in his passage to safety.”