A supporter of National Security Agency (NSA) leaker Edward Snowden holds a poster outside Sheremetyevo airport, in Moscow, on Friday. The poster reads : Fight against new world order ! Snowden himself remained today holed up in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport without making any contact with the swarm of international reporters at the scene. AFP
WASHINGTON — The father of fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden insisted Friday his son was not a traitor for revealing details of secret US surveillance programs, although admitted he did break the law.
In an interview with NBC News, Lonnie Snowden also said he had told US Attorney General Eric Holder through his lawyer that his son would probably be willing to return home so long as the Justice Department agrees not to detain him before trial or impose a gag order on him.
Snowden also said he wants his son to be able to choose where he goes on trial on espionage charges filed in the wake of the revelations made by the 30-year-old former National Security Agency contractor.
But he admitted he has not spoken to his son since April, long before he started spilling the beans on the surveillance programs. So it was not immediately clear how the father knew of his son’s apparent intentions.
“At this point I don’t feel that he’s committed treason. He has in fact broken US law, in the sense that he has released classified information,” Lonnie Snowden told NBC. “And if folks want to classify him as a traitor, in fact he has betrayed his government. But I don’t believe that he’s betrayed the people of the United States.”
Snowden left his job in Hawaii in mid-May and fled to Hong Kong. He then began issuing a series of leaks on the NSA’s global gathering of phone call logs and Internet data, including in China and Hong Kong. He fled to Moscow this week, and Russia is defying US pressure to hand him over, saying there is no extradition treaty.
Snowden, who is being assisted by the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks, has applied for asylum in Ecuador. The United States has charged him with espionage.
Lonnie Snowden told NBC he fears his son might be used by WikiLeaks.
“I love him. I would like to have the opportunity to communicate with him,” Snowden senior said. “I don’t want to put him in peril, but I am concerned about those who surround him,” he added.
“I think WikiLeaks, if you’ve looked at past history, you know, their focus isn’t necessarily the Constitution of the United States. It’s simply to release as much information as possible.”
Russia, meanwhile, accused Washington of putting it in a “tough spot” by claiming it had failed to disclose revoking the passport of Snowden prior to his arrival in Moscow from Hong Kong.
The fate of Snowden himself remained in limbo for a sixth day on Friday as he remained holed up in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport without making any contact with the swarm of international reporters at the scene.
The government of Ecuador — his most likely place of exile should he avoid arrest for lifting the curtain on the scale of the US global surveillance program to the media — said that it had not yet processed Snowden’s asylum application.
But Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro — who will coincidentally will be in Moscow on Monday for an energy summit — reiterated late Thursday his offer to grant a safe haven to the US fugitive.
Moscow lashes out at Washington
A Russian official close to the matter on Friday told the Interfax news agency that Washington had deliberately put Moscow in a difficult position, claiming it never reported that Snowden’s passport had been revoked and that he was banned from travel.
He said Moscow might not have allowed Snowden to fly to Russia in the first place had it known about his travel problems.
“The Americans deliberately put Moscow in a tough spot by having failed to inform it of the fact that his passport was annulled in time,” the source said.
“The Russian authorities were informed of this post-factum, more than a week after Snowden was stripped of his passport,” he said.
“If this fact had been known in advance, then possibly Mr Snowden might not have flown to Moscow and this entire story might never have happened.”
Russia and the United States do not have an extradition treaty and Moscow has thus far refused to hand over Snowden to Washington.
This refusal — expressed personally by President Vladimir Putin earlier this week — has added to diplomatic tensions between Moscow and Washington that have existed due to the Syria crisis.
But the United States has expressed equal anger at the handling of the situation by Hong Kong — a US ally that is now administered by China but which has its own British-derived legal system.
Washington’s Hong Kong envoy Stephen Young said China was guilty of “misbehaviour” over the former NSA contractor’s abrupt departure from Hong Kong last Sunday.
Yet he also stressed that the territory itself would bear the brunt of Washington’s displeasure.
“They’ve been throwing out some arguments as to what was going on. But frankly I don’t think we had a good-faith partner throughout that process,” the consul-general told foreign reporters.
The Russian source said Snowden will only be able to leave the Moscow airport after a country such as Ecuador or Venezuela offers him political asylum.
“On these grounds, he will legally leave the territory of Russia, without ever having crossed its border,” the official said. — Agencies