NSA Leaker Edward Snowden Expands Asylum Request
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The saga of Edward Snowden feels like a page-turner, the story of an international fugitive no one wants. Snowden is the former NSA contractor trying to avoid prosecution in the U.S. for leaking classified documents.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Snowden has been weighing his options as he languishes in a Moscow airport. He's requested asylum in at least 20 countries now. According to the website WikiLeaks, Snowden's legal advisor submitted those requests by hand to diplomatic missions in Moscow.
GREENE: And Snowden's wish list included Russia, but Russia's president did not extend the warmest invitation. He said Snowden was welcome, as long as he didn't release any more information. The Kremlin then announced Snowden no longer had Russia on his list. NPR's Corey Flintoff reports.
COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Snowden himself still hasn't emerged from the Moscow airport transit area where he spent the past nine days, but his request stirred up a flurry of comment. The statement posted on WikiLeaks' website said that Snowden had asked for asylum from countries ranging from Austria and France, to Cuba and Venezuela. Several countries quickly issued statements snubbing his requests. When the news first broke, most Russian officials were only mentioning the initial asylum request to Russia, which focused attention on remarks that President Putin made at a news conference yesterday.
(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Russian spoken)
FLINTOFF: The former KGB agent did not sound sympathetic to Snowden's cause. If he wants to stay here, Putin said, there's one condition: He must stop his work aimed at doing damage to our American partners - strange as it may sound coming from my lips. Strange, indeed, from a leader who's taken an increasingly adversarial stance to the United States in recent years. Putin went on to hold open a door for Snowden to make his exit.
(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)
PUTIN: (Russian spoken)
FLINTOFF: Since he feels himself to be a fighter for human rights, Putin said, he apparently doesn't intend to stop such work, therefore he should choose for himself a country of residence and move there. Snowden himself apparently reiterated his intention to keep publishing in a letter sent to Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa. The Reuters news agency quoted the letter as saying that Snowden remains free and able to publish information that serves the public interest. He complains that the government of the United States is persecuting him with, quote, "an extrajudicial manhunt costing me my family, my freedom to travel and my right to live peacefully without fear of illegal aggression," end quote. In Washington, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell dismissed any notion that Snowden is being hounded.
(SOUNDBITE OF STATEMENT)
PATRICK VENTRELL: We reject the notion that this is some sort of political prosecution. Indeed, it's not. These are serious crimes, and so our position is that he needs to face a free and fair trial and not be a fugitive.
FLINTOFF: Russian analyst Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs, says figures like Snowden pose a new kind of problem for traditional spy agencies in the U.S. and Russia.
FYODOR LUKYANOV: Today, he revealed important information about the United States. But who knows if he or somebody like him will get access to important information for Russia? What will they do?
FLINTOFF: And while Snowden may have short-term propaganda value for Russia, Lukyanov says, an intelligence professional like President Putin is likely to see him as a long-term liability. Some analysts believe that Russian intelligence services have been working on Snowden in an effort to access the information stored on his computers, or that they may already have it. But that information may eventually become public knowledge, anyway.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange recently issued a statement saying that Snowden's material has been encrypted and sent to other people so that it can be released, no matter what happens to him. So far, there's been little reaction from the countries on Snowden's asylum list. In Moscow, there's speculation that Venezuela may take him in, because Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is in the Russian capital for a summit of gas exporting countries and could take Snowden back with him on his presidential plane. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.