Edward Snowden’s father says he still can’t communicate directly with his son

Lon Snowden says he does not believe his son will ever get fair treatment from the U.S. government for revealing intelligence secrets. He sat down with the Post's Jerry Markon to defend to his son. (Lee Powell/The Washington Post)

In an interview with The Washington Post on Tuesday, Edward Snowden's father, Lon, discussed his son's leaks about NSA surveillance programs and subsequent flight around the world. The elder Snowden also shed some light on a question that has remained largely unanswered since Snowden first landed in Moscow over a month ago: Just how isolated is he?

The interview seemed to add further evidence that the NSA leaker is almost totally cut off from the outside world, including from his own father. But Lon Snowden also said that he was now able to communicate with his son indirectly, though unnamed "intermediaries." It's unclear if these intermediaries would be, for example, Russian officials or even members of WikiLeaks, a representative of which was seated next to Snowden at this Moscow airport meeting with human rights NGO officials.

The FBI approached the elder Snowden not long after his son's unmasking, he said, and asked him to fly to Moscow to retrieve him. But the plan never went through, in part, he says, because U.S. officials "were unable to set up communications" with his son, "and so that did not work."

Even if he flew to Moscow on his own, he said, "I'm not sure if I could get access to Edward."

The elder Snowden also said, though, that he's been able to communicate indirectly with his son through "intermediaries" -- whom he didn't identify -- as recently as Sunday.

Four weeks ago, Lon Snowden released an open letter to his son -- in part because, as the Associated Press paraphrased him, he had become "frustrated by his inability to reach out directly to his son." It appears that this is still true, although it's not clear whether or not his indirect access through "intermediaries" is a new development.

A week earlier, Snowden's father had thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for his "courage" in sheltering his son. Edward Snowden has spent the past month living in the Moscow airport's transit zone, unable to leave and not yet granted asylum despite earlier reports that he might be allowed to officially enter Russia. Lon Snowden now says that he believes his son should stay in Russia.

It seems potentially significant that the elder Snowden has expressed gratitude toward Russia and skepticism of WikiLeaks. Is the elder Snowden publicly thanking Russian officials in part because perhaps they've provided the intermediary access? Or maybe he's hoping to encourage them to grant his son asylum? It's also possible, of course, that neither is true, although that would raise the question of who else could be liaising indirectly between the father and son.

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Max Fisher · July 31, 2013