"I'm not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker," Obama said of Edward Snowden during a news conference with Sengalese President Macky Sall in Dakar, Senegal, on the first full day of his visit to Africa.
Obama said he was pursuing Snowden's extradition through established legal channels, suggesting ensuring sensitive national security information is not compromised was a higher priority than snagging Snowden, who admitted leaking data about the National Security Agency's cellphone and Internet monitoring programs.
"I get why it's a fascinating story from a press perspective. I'm sure there will be a made-for-TV movie," Obama said. "The damage done was in respect to the initial leaks."
In Moscow, Thursday's Aeroflot flight to Havana departed without any sign Snowden was aboard, The Washington Post reported.
The non-sighting raised questions about how much longer Snowden might remain in the transit zone at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport.
The 30-year-old former NSA contractor reportedly arrived in Russia from Hong Kong Sunday with plans to travel to Ecuador, where he has applied for asylum.
On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed Snowden was in the airport's transit zone, an area where international travelers can stay without a visa to enter the country. Putin said Russia wouldn't extradite Snowden but didn't want to keep him.
"Mr. Snowden is a free man," he said. "The faster he chooses his ultimate destination, the better for us and for him."
"He did not violate any laws of the Russian Federation. He did not cross the border, stays in the transit zone of the airport and has a right to fly in any direction he thinks of," Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Russia's ITAR-Tass news agency Wednesday. "And as the president put it, the sooner it happens, the better."
The United States has called on any country that Snowden may consider a destination to turn him away.
Conflicting reports have emerged over documents Snowden needs to travel to Ecuador, the Post said. The Spanish-language broadcaster Univision said on its website it had a copy of a letter from the Ecuadoran Embassy in London authorizing Snowden to travel to Ecuador. But other media quoted a deputy foreign minister as saying Ecuador has not given Snowden any documents.