The Hong Kong government announced on Sunday afternoon that it had allowed the departure from its territory of Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who has acknowledged disclosing classified documents about United States government surveillance of Internet and telephone communications around the world.
The government statement said that Hong Kong had informed the United States of Mr. Snowden’s departure.
A Moscow-based reservations agent at Aeroflot, Russia’s national airline, said that Mr. Snowden was aboard flight SU213 to Moscow, with a scheduled arrival there a little after 5 p.m. Moscow time. The reservations agent said that Mr. Snowden was traveling on a one-way ticket to Moscow.
Mr. Snowden’s final destination was unclear, but there were signs that it might be beyond Moscow. The Russian foreign ministry said that Mr. Snowden appeared to be making a connection in Moscow to another destination, but did not say where.
Russia’s Interfax news service, citing a “person familiar with the situation,” reported that Mr. Snowden would remain in transit at an airport in Moscow for “several hours” pending an onward flight to Cuba, and would therefore not formally cross the Russian border or be subject to detention. Someone close to Mr. Snowden later told Interfax that he planned to continue on to Caracas, Venezuela.
“He chose such a complex route in the hope that he will not be detained and he will be able to reach his final destination — Venezuela — unhindered,” the person said.
WikiLeaks, the organization that released extensive classified American diplomatic communications three years ago, said in a statement on its Twitter feed that it had “assisted Mr. Snowden’s political asylum in a democratic country, travel papers” and safe exit from Hong Kong, and said in a follow-up Twitter posting that, “Mr. Snowden is currently over Russian airspace accompanied by WikiLeaks legal advisers.”
The Aeroflot agent said that Mr. Snowden is traveling with one other person, with the surname Harrison, but the agent declined to release the other traveler’s first name, saying that she did not have the authorization to do so. The closest adviser to Julian Assange, who orchestrated the release of the Wikileaks diplomatic cables three years ago, is named Sarah Harrison, prompting speculation that she was the Harrison on the flight with Mr. Snowden.
His departure from Hong Kong was a setback for the United States, which had been pressing Hong Kong to surrender him to American law enforcement officials. The Hong Kong government said on Sunday, in its first detailed statement about Mr. Snowden, that the United States had made a legal request for the issue of a provisional warrant of arrest against Mr. Snowden, but that the Hong Kong government had concluded that the request “did not fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law.”
The statement said that Hong Kong had requested more information from the United States but had not received it. Because the government “has yet to have sufficient information to process the request for provisional warrant of arrest, there is no legal basis to restrict Mr. Snowden from leaving Hong Kong,” the statement said.
The United States consulate in Hong Kong declined to comment, referring questions to the State Department in Washington.
The statement also said that the Hong Kong government had written to the United States government to ask for clarification about media reports that Mr. Snowden had released documents showing that United States government agencies had hacked computer systems here, adding that the Hong Kong government, “will continue to follow up on the matter so as to protect the legal rights of the people of Hong Kong.”
Late Saturday, a Hong Kong newspaper, The South China Morning Post, reportedadditional details of the N.S.A.’s spying on Hong Kong and China, apparently based on an interview with Mr. Snowden on June 12. Mr. Snowden told the newspaper that the N.S.A. had tapped into Chinese mobile phone companies to read millions of text messages, hacked dozens of computers at Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University and other computers operated by Pacnet, a major telecommunications company with headquarters in Hong Kong and Singapore.
While there was no independent confirmation of the claims, all the operations described by Mr. Snowden are consistent with the N.S.A.’s aggressive monitoring of foreign communications. And the newspaper’s report could win Mr. Snowden more public support in China and Hong Kong.
In Moscow, Dmitri S. Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, said the Kremlin had not been informed of Mr. Snowden’s plans to travel to Russia.
“I don’t know if he is coming with a visa or without a visa,” Mr. Peskov said. “We are not tracing his movements. I am not sure if he is coming. If he is coming, we will wait and see.”
He said if Mr. Snowden applies for asylum in Russia, his application would be considered, adding that every application is considered.