WASHINGTON — Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor behind the disclosures of the U.S. government's sweeping surveillance programs, left Hong Kong on Sunday and was seeking asylum in Ecuador. Five things to know about his admitted leaker and his future:
— THE LEAK: Snowden disclosed surveillance programs that collect vast amounts of online data and email, sometimes sweeping up information on ordinary American citizens. Officials have the ability to collect phone and Internet information broadly but need a warrant to examine specific cases where they believe terrorism is involved. The revelation sparked debate about government surveillance and post-Sept. 11 civil liberties.
— THE LEAKER: Since revealing himself as the principal source for reports in The Guardian and The Washington Post, Snowden had been in hiding in Hong Kong. The United States had sought his extradition but officials in Hong Kong rejected that, saying the U.S. petition didn't pass muster. The former CIA operative and NSA contractor has had his passport revoked, although that alone was unlikely to thwart Snowden's travel if he could find a friendly government to host him.
— THE EVASION: Before the first stories were published, Snowden left Hawaii for Hong Kong. While there, he continued speaking to reporters and disclosing other details. This weekend, he left Hong Kong with advisers from WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group that helped disclose a trove of diplomatic cables that embarrassed Washington. He is said to have arrived in Moscow but did not leave the airport. His allies say he is en route to Ecuador, which has an extradition treaty with the United States but permits exemptions for political asylum. Ecuador's embassy in London has housed and protected WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange.
— THE DIPLOMACY: The United States unsuccessfully sought cooperation from Hong Kong to extradite Snowden to the United States to face criminal charges. Instead, Snowden shuttled to Russia, with which the United States does not have an extradition treaty. His potential next stops were just as dicey for the United States: Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador. All three have extradition treaties with the United States, but none are strong allies. U.S. lawmakers said Sunday there would be consequences for countries that harbor Snowden.
— THE FUTURE: The disclosures to this point have been damaging but the journalists who have published them have said they limited the scope to protect national security. Snowden's cooperation with WikiLeaks could signal a new chapter in those disclosures. The chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said she has been told Snowden has as many as 200 documents and another lawmaker suggested Snowden had received asylum in Ecuador in exchange for disclosing more information.