Intelligence fugitive Edward Snowden, who leaked details of secret surveillance operations in the UK and US, is to seek asylum in Ecuador, the country's foreign minister has said.
The 30-year-old, who is wanted by the US on charges of espionage and theft of government property, arrived in Russia on Sunday after boarding a flight from Hong Kong where he has been in hiding.
White House officials requested his extradition but he was allowed to leave Hong Kong because documents provided by the US did not ''fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law,'' the Associated Press reported.
Ecuador's foreign minister Ricardo Patino wrote on Twitter: "The Government of Ecuador has received an asylum request from Edward J. #Snowden."
Whistleblowing group WikiLeaks announced that Mr Snowden had requested legal expertise as he sought asylum in Ecuador. The organisation's founder, Julian Assange, was granted asylum by the South American country last year and has been staying at its embassy in London.
A statement released on WikiLeaks' website said: "Mr Edward Snowden, the American whistleblower who exposed evidence of a global surveillance regime conducted by US and UK intelligence agencies, has left Hong Kong legally. He is bound for the Republic of Ecuador via a safe route for the purposes of asylum, and is being escorted by diplomats and legal advisers from WikiLeaks." US news outlets reported that Snowden's passport has now been revoked.
The extradition request came after the Guardian reported that UK eavesdropping agency GCHQ is able to tap into and store internet and communications data from cables for up to 30 days so it can be analysed under an operation codenamed Tempora.
The Cheltenham-based agency would not comment on intelligence matters but insisted it was "scrupulous" in complying with the law.
The newspaper said there were two principal components to the agency's surveillance programme, called Mastering the Internet and Global Telecoms Exploitation. It claimed the data was shared with the organisation's US counterpart the National Security Agency (NSA).
The information is the latest leak from Mr Snowden, the American former NSA contractor responsible for a string of disclosures about US intelligence operations.