Former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden has created an international uproar by leaking classified documents detailing massive Internet and telephone data surveillance programs.
After almost six weeks in the transit zone of a Moscow airport, Edward Snowden won asylum in Russia and left the airport Thursday for an undisclosed location in Moscow.
Anatoly Kucherena, his Russian lawyer, showed reporters Snowden’s asylum document. He said it was valid for one year and would allow the American fugitive to travel anywhere in Russia.
He said he could not say where Snowden is for safety reasons, adding that Snowden is the world's most wanted man.
Snowden, a former U.S. government computer expert, fled here from Hong Kong. He has been on the run for two months, after Britain’s Guardian newspaper started running articles based on thousands of files that Snowden says he downloaded from computers of the National Security Administration.
After the White House demanded the Russia return Snowden to the United States for trial, President Vladimir Putin said the American could remain in Russia only “if he stops harming our U.S. partners.”
But on Wednesday, the Guardian published a new story based on information leaked by Snowden, purporting to outline yet another secret NSA data collection program. On Thursday, Kucherena, the lawyer, said the newspaper received the documents from Snowden when he was in Hong Kong, before Russia’s president laid down asylum conditions.
In recent days, several Washington analysts have written that White House frustration over the Snowden affair is so high that President Barack Obama may not come to Moscow next month for a scheduled two-day summit with Putin.
After Snowden left Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on Thursday, Yury Ushakov, a top Kremlin aide, downplayed this latest development. He told the Interfax news agency he saw no moves from Washington to cancel the Putin-Obama summit.
On Wednesday, Carnegie Moscow analyst Lilia Shevtsova said the Kremlin hopes the Snowden affair will not derail the summit.
"They definitely need Obama to come to Moscow in the fall, and so they would not like Snowden to prevent it," she said.
Last month, Obama telephoned Putin asking for Snowden’s return. Last week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder sent a letter to the Russia’s justice minister, saying that the United States would not seek the death penalty against Snowden and that he would be granted a fair trial.
But Snowden’s determination to stay in Russia may have been strengthened on Monday, when U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning, who leaked thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, was convicted on 20 charges, ranging from theft to espionage. On Thursday, a sentencing hearing started in that case. Manning could be sentenced to up to 136 years in jail.
On Wednesday, Rossiya 24 TV broadcast an interview with Snowden’s father, Lon. He said: "I want to thank President Vladimir Putin for having the courage to keep my son safe."
Lon Snowden is applying for a visa to visit his son in Russia this month.
While the Kremlin harshly punishes its own leakers, Russia’s state media has been very supportive of Snowden’s asylum bid.
In a Levada Center poll released Wednesday, 51 percent of Russians approved of Snowden releasing information on U.S. internet surveillance programs. Forty-three percent favored granting asylum to the American.
Moscow traditionally welcomes former employees of Western intelligence agencies. Tuesday marked the 50th anniversary of Moscow granting Soviet citizenship to Kim Philby, the leader of a British spy ring for the Soviet Union. Philby died here in 1988, 25 years after his defection.