BERLIN — Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden is interested in testifying in a German inquiry into U.S. spying, a German lawmaker said Friday, a day after meeting with the leaker in Moscow. But questions remained about how and where that would be possible.
The suggestion came the same day that Germany’s top security official said he was open to making it possible to take testimony from Snowden about allegations that the NSA monitored German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone for more than 10 years. Snowden has been living in Russia, which granted him temporary asylum for a year after the United States revoked his passport.
Snowden’s apparent interest in going to Germany — if the country could give him assurances it would grant him shelter and not send him on to the United States — puts Merkel into a tight spot. German voters are furious with the U.S. government over the spying revelations, and allowing Snowden into Germany would be a popular move. But the Obama administration has made clear that it is willing to go to great lengths to retrieve Snowden — including, said Bolivian President Evo Morales this summer, forcing the leader of a sovereign country to make an emergency landing because of suspicions that Snowden was on his jet.
Some German officials voiced discomfort Friday at being trapped between the two sides.
“If there were the possibility to hear Snowden as a witness — without bringing him into danger and completely ruining the German-USA relationship — we should use it,” said Thomas Oppermann, a Social Democrat who heads the parliamentary intelligence oversight committee, on Twitter.
German lawmakers appeared split about how best to proceed, although many seemed interested in hearing from Snowden even if he does not step foot in Berlin.
“If Mr. Snowden is willing to talk with German officials, we will find ways to make this conversation possible,” German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich told Die Zeit newspaper. “Any enlightenment, all information and facts that we can get, is good.”
Friedrich also said this week that if U.S. diplomats were found to have been complicit in spying on Germany, they should be expelled.
In a letter that Snowden gave German lawmaker Hans-Christian Stroebele on Thursday, Snowden wrote that he was interested in speaking out further about what he sees as instances of overreaching by the U.S. intelligence establishment, but that the U.S. government had forced him into “exile.”
In the letter, which was addressed “to whom it may concern” but which Stroebele said was intended for Merkel and Germany’s chief prosecutor, Snowden wrote, “I look forward to speaking with you in your country when the situation is resolved” — a reference to the felony charges against him in the United States.
Stroebele, a veteran member of the opposition Greens and the longest-serving lawmaker on the parliamentary intelligence oversight committee, told reporters in Berlin on Friday that he believed it was possible for Snowden to testify if German lawmakers had the “courage” to make it so.
Snowden “can imagine coming to Germany if it is assured that afterwards he will be able to stay in Germany or a similar country and will be safe there,” Stroebele said. “That means, legally speaking, safe passage, and then asylum or a right to residence. . . . Under these circumstances, if all this is clarified, he would be willing to come here.”
Stroebele said Snowden was wary about testifying inside Russia.
“He is having strong doubts, which I cannot and must not explain further, but which one can imagine,” Stroebele said.
Snowden’s Kremlin-friendly Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, told the Interfax news service Friday that the American was “free to decide whom to talk to and when,” including German lawmakers. But he also made clear that Snowden would lose his status in Russia if he were to leave the country and said that the American had not released any new secrets since he arrived in Russia. The lawyer said Thursday that Snowden has taken a job at a major Russian Internet firm, although he did not say which one.
Stroebele said that he had arranged the secretive visit to Snowden directly with him and that he had not coordinated it with Russian officials. Stroebele and two German reporters were picked up by a van with tinted windows and brought to Snowden, he said. He added that he left his cellphone in his hotel room and that he did not know where Snowden was living.
Asked a question about Snowden’s life in Moscow, the German lawmaker said he could not answer in detail — but that the American had said he was free to go shopping.
Petra Krischok contributed to this report.