For more than a year, former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden has been living in Russia, having been granted asylum.
He is wanted in the United States on espionage charges after making public key intelligence documents dealing with the U.S. National Security Agency’s secret surveillance programs.
And amid frosty U.S.-Russia relations over Ukraine, Russia will apparently allow Snowden to stay for a while.
Russian media disclosed Thursday that Snowden has been granted a three-year residency permit. His lawyer told Russian news agencies that while Snowden has no plans to apply for asylum, he could see Russian citizenship in five years.
The Snowden affair continues to a blight on the Obama administration, analysts say.
Richard Betts, a national security expert at Columbia University, said Snowden released “lots of information about the sorts of metadata the National Security Agency - or NSA - collects for U.S. intelligence, involving the destination of communications and the identities of people around the world who are talking to each other.
"And a lot of information about the procedures that the NSA uses in handling and dealing with that information,” he said.
Betts said that was very bad publicity for the U.S. government “because it had led to the revelation of many intelligence practices that are quite normal for any great power and that many other countries in the world practice themselves, but which can be embarrassing when they are revealed - as we have seen in several cases when intelligence collecting activities in Brazil and Germany have been revealed.”
Ken Gude, with the Center for American Progress, sees Snowden’s documents in a different light.
“He took reportedly up to 1.7 million documents, the overwhelming majority of them have nothing to do with the spying activities of the NSA on Americans or citizens of other countries and much more to do with military communications and the way in which the NSA intercepts the communications of America’s recognized adversaries and enemies,” Gude said.
Criminal charges pending
The U.S. Justice Department has filed criminal charges against Snowden including theft of government property and unauthorized communication of national defense information.
Snowden has consistently said one of the reasons he leaked the documents was to start a discussion about the U.S. government’s secret spying programs.
Analyst Gude said Snowden certainly achieved that.
“Here we are, more than a year on from the first revelations and it’s still a story capturing the attention of the American people, certainly competing with a lot of things going on in the world, but very rarely do stories last as long as this one,” Gude said.
“And it is, of course, of great interest to not just Americans, but to people around the world as well,” he added.
Gude and other experts say as a result of the Snowden revelations, the Obama administration has changed the ways it collects intelligence in the United States and abroad.
“Probably the most significant change,” Gude said, “is they’ve put a prohibition on spying on the leaders of allied governments.
"They’ve instituted some changes in how they collect and store information on foreign citizens and the president has changed the way the NSA collects information on Americans,” he said.
There is also legislation before Congress to alter the way the NSA gathers information.
As for Snowden, he has kept a low profile in Russia.
“He is kept out of the news media by the Russian authorities except when it is useful to them," he said.
"And it is very clear’ that Russian President Putin and the Russian authorities that are controlling Mr. Snowden while he is in Russia, have been able to use him for their propaganda efforts on numerous occasions,” he added.
Gude said “both domestically and internationally, the presence of Snowden is a real political tool for President Putin as he aims to set Russia up against the United States and the West.”