NSA leaker Edward Snowden officially enters Russia after weeks in Moscow airport

Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor and fugitive from U.S. authorities, left a Moscow airport Thursday after receiving permission to officially enter Russian territory. He had been staying in a diplomatically neutral transit zone at Russia’s Sheremetyevo Airport since June 23. Snowden was the original source of the documents describing U.S. digital surveillance operations that have become intensely controversial since they became public. He has been charged with espionage and theft:

Snowden is wanted in the United States for leaking classified documents about telephone and e-mail surveillance programs. The documents issued Thursday will allow Snowden to live in Russia for up to one year, the lawyer said.

U.S. authorities repeatedly asked Russia to turn Snowden over to them so that he could be prosecuted for leaking the documents, and Secretary of State John F. Kerry said in June that Russia was defying international convention by allowing the fugitive to remain unhindered in the transit zone.

“There are standards of behavior between sovereign nations,” Kerry said. “There is common law. There is respect for rule of law.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, said he saw no reason for Russia to extradite Snowden to the United States. He said that for Snowden to remain in Russia, he would have to refrain from releasing information that is damaging to the United States. Putin added that the case should not be allowed to damage Russian-U.S. ties.

“If he wants to stay here, there is one condition,” Putin said July 1. “He has to stop his work undermining our U.S. partners, as odd as it may sound coming from me.”

The Guardian newspaper on Wednesday published a new report on U.S. intelligence-gathering based on information from Snowden, but Kucherena said the material was provided before Snowden promised to stop leaking, the Associated Press reported.

Nicaragua, Bolivia and Venezuela have offered Snowden refuge, but pressure from Washington and concerns that the United States or Europe might block him from traveling through their airspace — his U.S. passport has been revoked — have prevented him from leaving Russia.

Yuri Ushakov, a Kremlin official, told reporters Thursday that the “relatively insignificant case” of Snowden would not harm ties between Russia and the United States. There was no sign that President Obama would cancel a planned trip to Moscow in September, he added.

Isabel Gorst

Snowden’s father Lon Snowden said his son’s decision to leak the documents and then to flee from his home in Hawaii to Hong Kong and finally to Moscow, was justified:

In a wide-ranging interview, the elder Snowden offered a vehement defense of the young man some have labeled a traitor. He said that Edward, who is holed up at an airport in Moscow, grew up in a patriotic family in suburban Maryland, filled with federal agents and police officers, and that he “loves this nation.’’

Asked what triggered his son’s decision to leak top-secret intelligence documents, Snowden, a retired Coast Guard officer, said he didn’t know. Although Edward had seemed troubled in April during their final dinner together, he said his son had recently put up a “firewall between himself and his family.”

“We had no idea what was coming,’’ he said.

But he pointed to a possible explanation: what he considers misleading statements by U.S. officials about the surveillance methods that Edward Snowden revealed. “If you could say there was a tipping point, I would say it was what happened in the last six to nine months of this nation,” the elder Snowden said. . . .

But Snowden said he was shocked when his son was identified as the leaker.

“I was as surprised as the rest of America. I was stunned,” he said. He said he saw no direct signs of the growing disillusionment with the government and its surveillance methods that Edward has spoken about in interviews. “He simply did not talk about his work. He was true to the culture,’’ Snowden said.

Edward has said he took his final government contracting job with Booz Allen Hamilton in Hawaii to gain access to sensitive NSA information. But his father said Edward told him that his previous contracting job had been eliminated because of the federal budget sequestration.

“As a father, it pains me what he did,’’ Snowden said. “I wish my son could have simply sat in Hawaii and taken the big paycheck, lived with his beautiful girlfriend and enjoyed paradise. But as an American citizen, I am absolutely thankful for what he did.’’

Jerry Markon

Lon Snowden says he does not believe his son will ever get fair treatment from the U.S. government for revealing intelligence secrets. (Lee Powell/The Washington Post)

Snowden worked for Booz Allen Hamilton when he was assigned to the NSA. Booz Allen’s chief executive, Ralph Shrader, repudiated Snowden in his first public comments on the issue earlier this week:

“I told our employees Mr. Snowden was on our payroll for a short period of time, but he was not a Booz Allen person and he did not share our values,” Shrader said. “We cannot and will not let him define us.”

Booz Allen, which is majority-owned by private equity firm Carlyle Group, was thrust into the spotlight after Snowden acknowledged being the source of news reports about National Security Agency data-collection programs.

Shrader said he has “been touched by the words of support from those in the business community and especially from our clients, showing that our long-term clients know the kind of company we are.”

Booz Allen has said that Snowden was an employee for less than three months and was terminated for violating its code of ethics and company policy.

Shrader said that Booz Allen continues to support the government’s investigation into the matter. In July, the Air Force said it had determined that Booz Allen is not responsible for the disclosure of government secrets by Snowden.

Marjorie Censer

The Washington Post profiled Snowden, who grew up in Maryland, in June:

Although Snowden has repeatedly insisted that the documents he revealed are the story and that his life is of no interest, questions about his motives and rationale inevitably colored the debate over his decision to violate his oath. . . .

For someone who spent most of his life deeply exploring the most powerful communications tool of the era, he has connected with remarkably few people. Teachers, classmates, neighbors and fellow hobbyists consistently say they don’t remember him, or they recall him primarily as a quiet sort who made a point of keeping his distance.

For years, Snowden has sought to keep his online activities hidden, posting under pseudonyms even as a teenager and hanging out on anime, gaming and technology sites, chatting with fellow webheads about how to be on the Internet without being traced. “I wouldn’t want God himself to know where I’ve been, you know?” he wrote in 2003 on a bulletin board for the technically inclined.

But Snowden also craved the limelight. Even a decade ago, while debating a fine point of Internet structure, Snowden celebrated the response to one of his posts: “256 page views make me smile.” He explored becoming a male model, having a portrait photographer shoot him in alluring poses on a wooden bridge. And when he went public as the leaker, he did so on video, offering an assured, even cocky, argument for the acts that drove him to hide halfway around the world from the government of the country he claimed to love.

Carol D. Leonnig, Jenna Johnson and Marc Fisher

For past coverage of U.S. digital surveillance, continue reading here.

Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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