The British government asked Malaysia’s national airline to block Edward Snowden, who says he worked as a contractor at the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the CIA, from boarding flights to the UK, the carrier said on Friday, after he leaked details of Washington’s secret surveillance programs.
The request came following reports that the UK had issued an alert to airlines around the world urging them not to allow Snowden to board flights to Britain.
Britain’s Home Office told carriers to deny Snowden passage on UK-bound flights because “the individual is highly likely to be refused entry to the UK,” The Associated Press reported.
The news agency said it had seen a photograph of an “alert” with a Home Office letterhead taken on Friday at a Thai airport issuing the directive.
It added that a British diplomat had confirmed the document was genuine.
A Malaysia Airlines spokeswoman in Kuala Lumpur said on Friday the carrier had received a notice asking it not to allow Snowden to board flights to the UK.
“We have received a notice and we have issued it internally systemwide,” she said in a text message.
The notice was marked as a “message from UK border,” the spokeswoman said.
“Apparently the notice came from UK Border. So don’t allow him on flights to UK,” she added.
The US launched a criminal investigation after Snowden, a former CIA technical assistant, blew the lid on the NSA’s vast electronic surveillance operation.
On Friday, US Attorney General Eric Holder said he was confident Snowden would be prosecuted for “extremely damaging” leaks.
The 29-year-old, who remains in hiding in Hong Kong, has vowed to fight any bid to extradite him.
WikiLeaks spokesman Julian Assange, who is holed up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London, said on Friday he believed the UK wanted to block Snowden from entering Britain because it did not want “another Assange” on its hands.
“The British government refused entry to this country to Edward Snowden preventively. Why? Presumably because it doesn’t want to end up with another Assange,” the Australian said in an interview at the embassy.
“Snowden is a hero, his revelations are important to nearly everybody in the world,” Assange said.
“The British government should be offering Snowden asylum, not excluding him. The rule of law has gone astray in the UK — this is another example,” he said.
Assange has been at the embassy for almost a year in a bid to avoid extradition to Sweden where prosecutors want to question him over allegations of rape. He fears he will then be extradited to the US to face trial for a massive leak of US diplomatic and military documents.
In Hong Kong, a Cathay Pacific Airways spokesperson said it would “not discuss communications, if any, received from governmental agencies” due to security reasons.
The city’s airport authority said it had not received any instructions about banning Snowden from boarding flights.
Virgin Atlantic’s press office in Britain said it would not comment on issues of “national security.”