U.S. whistleblowers honor Snowden in Moscow visit

October 10, 2013

Edward Snowden burst back into the limelight Thursday after four whistleblower advocates from the United States met with him to give him an award and his father arrived here for the first time since his son received asylum. Through it all, the fugitive remained out of public view.

The four activists, who said they met Snowden on Wednesday, gave him an award for truth-telling on behalf of Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence, an organization of former national security officials. They ridiculed U.S. government assertions that Snowden has caused grave damage to national security.

The United States has charged Snowden under the Espionage Act for revealing secrets that he had access to as a contractor for the National Security Agency. “Integrity must trump blind loyalty,” countered Coleen Rowley, a former FBI agent who was at the meeting, thought to be Snowden’s first with visitors.

The encounter and the separate arrival of his father suggested that Snowden remained under the tight control of Russian authorities. He has not been seen since he left Sheremetyevo International Airport on Aug. 1.

The four Americans told their story Thursday in a 15-minute program on the RT channel, which is financed by the Kremlin and broadcasts its point of view. Snowden’s father, Lon, met with reporters in the company of Anatoly Kucherena, Snowden’s Kremlin-connected attorney, and sped from the airport to an appearance on the main Russian television channel, also controlled by the Kremlin.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) says NSA leaker Edward Snowden might have help analyzing information about U.S. national security. (Meena Ganesan/The Washington Post)

“I’m Mr. Kucherena’s guest,” Lon Snowden said, “and I’m very thankful for his hospitality, and I’m going to follow Mr. Kucherena’s advice — and that will determine where my day leads.”

Lon Snowden acknowledged that Julian Assange and the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks had helped arrange his travel here, and the four Americans said Sarah Harrison, an Assange aide, remained with Snowden in refuge.

Kucherena declined to reveal any details about a meeting between father and son, saying that security concerns were paramount and suggesting that the United States might somehow take action if it knew Edward Snowden’s whereabouts. “We need to understand he is America’s most wanted man,” the lawyer said.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the U.S. reaction “is the same it’s always been — Mr. Snowden needs to return to the United States to face these charges.”

The Sam Adams award was announced in July but presented in person Wednesday. It honors Snowden as a whistleblower, a description that the United States deems wrong. U.S. officials contend that whistleblowers reveal information after efforts to go through official channels are ignored. Snowden, they say, made no such efforts before leaking secrets, forfeiting whistleblower protections.

Thomas Drake, a former NSA executive who became a critic of the agency, said Snowden spoke truth to power.

“Russia, to its credit, recognized international law and granted him asylum,” Drake said, asserting that U.S. officials drove Snowden into Russia’s arms by making him stateless. The United States points out that Snowden remains a citizen even though his passport was revoked and that he should return home to answer the charges against him.

“This is an extraordinary person,” said Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst. “He’s convinced what he did was right.”

“I thought he looked great,” said Jesselyn Radack, who once accused the FBI of ethics violations and now defends whistleblowers for the Government Accountability Project. She said the United States has presented no evidence that Snowden had harmed national security.

“We weren’t worried about coming into your country,” she told a Russian TV host. “We’re worried about getting back into ours.”

Later Thursday, the Americans said in an interview that they met with Snowden for about five hours, including at a private ceremony and an elegant dinner afterward. Radack said the meeting took place at “what appeared to be a hotel” in Moscow.

All in all, the group said, Snowden appeared to be in good spirits. He is learning Russian and studying literature, the members said.

Radack said the group asked Snowden whether he would do it all over again. His reply: “Absolutely,” she said.  

Snowden has been on the run since May, leaving his home in Hawaii and turning up in Hong Kong, then fleeing to Moscow on June 23, spending five weeks hiding in the airport, where his father arrived Thursday.

“I’ve had no direct contact with my son despite previous reports,” Lon Snowden told reporters gathered outside the airport. “If the opportunity presents itself, I certainly hope I’ll be able to meet my son.”

Kucherena told reporters that the son was running out of money.

“What he really needs to do today is find a job, and I hope he can do that in the nearest future,” the lawyer said. “He could get a job in IT or maybe human rights. But we haven’t decided yet.”

He said it was natural that Snowden has not been seen. “This is because he is being persecuted by a huge power, the U.S. government,” he said. “This anger persists, and we understand this very well.”

Speculation has been rife about why Snowden has remained in Russia. Authorities here say he could not travel onward because the United States revoked his passport, although Russia could have provided him with travel documents if it had so desired.

“I’m here to learn more about my son’s situation,” Lon Snowden said, “and I’m thankful, extremely thankful, to the Russian people, President Vladimir Putin and Mr. Kucherena and his staff for their help in keeping my son safe and secure.”

He said he doubted that his son would return to the United States but said it was up to him.

“I’m his father,” he said. “I love my son.”

Ellen Nakashima in Washington contributed to this report.

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