The relationship between Edward Snowden’s family and WikiLeaks turned acrimonious Tuesday as an attorney for Snowden’s father suggested that the anti-secrecy organization is standing in the way of the father’s efforts to speak to his son, who is stranded in Russia.
Bruce Fein, an attorney for Lonnie Snowden, said WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange called him Saturday and said Lonnie Snowden could talk to his son through an “intermediary.” WikiLeaks has been aiding Edward Snowden in his flight from U.S. authorities, who have charged him with leaking classified documents about government surveillance.
“We are obviously concerned. If Julian Assange can talk to Edward directly, why can’t his dad?” said Fein, who criticized what he called the “circus” of Snowden’s efforts to find asylum abroad, which WikiLeaks has apparently been coordinating.
Fein’s comments, the latest sign of tensions between Snowden’s father and Assange’s group, came as Lonnie Snowden issued a broad defense of his son, a former National Security Agency contractor who has admitted leaking information about secret surveillance programs.
In an open letter released Tuesday, the elder Snowden, a retired U.S. Coast Guard officer, praised his son as “a modern day Paul Revere summoning the American people to confront the growing danger of tyranny and one branch government.”
“What you have done and are doing has awakened congressional oversight of the intelligence community from deep slumber,” said the letter, co-written with Fein.
The U.S. government has condemned Snowden’s actions and said the surveillance programs he disclosed — in which the NSA collected massive amounts of Americans’ cellphone and Internet records — had been approved by Congress and were subject to federal oversight.
Snowden has been stuck at an airport in Moscow since arriving from Hong Kong late last month. WikiLeaks said he has sought asylum in 21 countries.
Assange has acted as a spokesman for the confessed leaker, and a top WikiLeaks lieutenant accompanied Snowden to Moscow.
The anti-secrecy group and Snowden share similar experiences; the U.S. government has also targeted WikiLeaks over its release of a massive cache of sensitive diplomatic and military documents.
Snowden’s father, however, has indicated that he does not welcome the group’s assistance to his son. In an interview on the “Today” show last week, Lonnie Snowden expressed concern about WikiLeaks’ influence on his son. Assange said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that “every father would be worried in this situation” and vowed to “put some of his concerns to rest.’’
That apparently has not happened. People close to Lonnie Snowden said Tuesday that he remains suspicious of Assange’s motives. And while WikiLeaks has been aiding Snowden’s flight, Fein last week wrote to the Justice Department and said his client was confident Edward Snowden would turn himself in to U.S. authorities under certain conditions.
A spokesman for WikiLeaks did not return calls or e-mails seeking comment Tuesday.
Fein, a former Justice Department official in the Reagan administration who has also been critical of U.S. surveillance policies, said Lonnie Snowden retained him because of his opposition to the programs Edward Snowden exposed, his fears for his son’s safety and his concerns that he not be seen as “obstructing” the criminal investigation.
Lonnie Snowden has been contacted by the Justice Department but is not considered a target of the probe, according to people familiar with the contacts, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
“The purpose of engaging me wasn’t simply to have his son come back,” Fein said. “It was also, ‘What can we do to walk away from the precipice of a leviathan state where nothing is private anymore and which operates in the kind of secrecy we associated with China or Russia?’ ”
Fein was a senior policy adviser to the 2012 presidential campaign of Republican Ron Paul, who has criticized what he views as excessive government intrusion into Americans’ lives. Edward Snowden made a $250 donation to that campaign, records show.
Julie Tate contributed to this report.