Snowden says he wants asylum in Russia
MOSCOW – Edward Snowden emerged from weeks of hiding in a Moscow airport Friday, still defiant but willing to stop leaking secrets about U.S. surveillance programs if Russia will give him asylum until he can move on to Latin America.
Snowden’s meeting with Russian officials and rights activists cleared up uncertainty about where the former National Security Agency systems analyst is, but left open the big question: What comes next?
Snowden said he was ready to meet President Vladimir Putin’s condition that he stop leaking secrets if it means Russia would give him shelter that could eventually help him get to Latin America. There was no immediate response from Putin’s office, but speakers of both houses of the Kremlin-controlled parliament spoke in support of Snowden’s plea.
Vyacheslav Nikonov, a senior lawmaker with the main Kremlin party, described Snowden as “a bit nervous but smiling” and noted his “perfect haircut.” He said that when asked to describe his stay at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, Snowden answered with one word: “Safe.”
Snowden is believed to have been stuck in the airport’s transit zone since his arrival on June 23 from Hong Kong, where he had gone before his revelations were made public. He booked a seat on a Cuba-bound flight the next day, but did not get on the plane and had remained out of the public eye until Friday.
Putin has said Snowden stayed in the transit zone and thus technically didn’t cross the Russian border. He also insisted that Russian special services haven’t contacted the NSA leaker – a claim that drew skeptical winks from some security analysts who noted that Russian intelligence agencies would be all too eager to learn the secrets in his possession.
Sergei Nikitin of Amnesty International’s Moscow office said that plainclothes men who looked like officers of Russian special services attended the meeting, which was held in a cordoned section of a corridor. The exact location was unclear as hundreds of journalists were left in a hallway outside the meeting area, behind a gray door marked “staff only.”
Nikitin said participants were asked not to take photos and video. “Snowden himself requested that, saying his pictures would give too much information to the U.S. special services,” Nikitin said.