Snowden saga questions US competency
THE Obama administration has spent the past few weeks arguing that it can wield power responsibly after Mr Edward Snowden unveiled its sweeping spying programmes.
Now, the administration must prove it can wield power effectively.
As the 30-year-old leads the world's lone superpower on a global game of hide-and-seek, United States government officials faced questions about whether they had botched the effort to extradite Mr Snowden from Hong Kong to face charges related to his leak of classified information.
On Monday, administration officials said they had done all they could to bring him to justice. Chinese defiance, rather than bureaucratic bungling, had allowed the former contractor to slip out of Hong Kong as officials there weighed Washington's request for extradition, they said.
"This was a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive, despite a valid arrest warrant," White House spokesman Jay Carney said at a briefing.
Other administration officials tried to dispel any notion of foot-dragging since Mr Snowden first went public on June 9, and dismissed suggestions that they could have taken other steps to detain him. He had gained access to highly sensitive information as a contract systems administrator at a National Security Agency facility in Hawaii.
His exact whereabouts were a mystery on Monday as Russia resisted White House pressure to stop him during his journey to escape US prosecution. Reporters staking out an Aeroflot flight to Havana from Moscow on Monday saw no sign of Mr Snowden.
His decision to go on the lam creates another headache for the Obama administration, which has seen priorities like immigration reform threatened by a string of scandals.
When it comes to the National Security Agency's (NSA's) revelations, most lawmakers were already aware of the surveillance programme and few have raised objections.
Republicans, by and large, have focused their criticism on Mr Snowden and China, rather than the administration.
That may change if the ordeal drags on. Republican representative Peter King of New York on Monday said US President Barack Obama should have taken a harder line with the Chinese authorities who control the semi-autonomous region of Hong Kong.
"Where is the president? Why is he not speaking to the American people? Why is he not more forceful in dealing with foreign leaders?" Mr King said on CNN television.
There are also likely to be increasingly embarrassing questions about how Mr Snowden managed to download and take many highly sensitive documents when he was working for NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.