Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contract worker who fled to Russia last year after releasing reams of secret U.S. government documents, has filed the paperwork to extend his refuge in Russia, his lawyer said Wednesday.
Snowden has indicated in interviews during his nearly yearlong stay in Russia that he would like to move elsewhere or come home to the United States if he could be assured of getting a fair trial on the espionage charges the U.S. Justice Department has filed against him.
But with little indication from the U.S. government that any deal to repatriate him is in the offing, Snowden, 31, has apparently hedged his bets and gotten a jump on the process of extending his Russian visa, as the July 31 expiration of his asylum grant approaches.
“We have filed documents to extend his stay on the territory of Russia,” attorney Anatoly Kucherena told the Interfax news agency.
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Snowden was granted temporary asylum last Aug. 1 after being marooned for more than a month in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport. He had arrived without a visa for Russia en route to a self-imposed exile in Cuba but was unable to continue on because his U.S. passport had been revoked.
Felony charges were filed against the fired NSA contractor after he revealed classified program files that showed massive surveillance of private citizens’ emails, phone calls and texts in pursuit of terrorists’ communications.
Snowden has said he violated his security-clearance conditions to draw attention to the domestic snooping he believes violates U.S. law. The practices he exposed through collaboration with a journalist for British newspaper The Guardian included clandestine surveillance of millions of foreign citizens’ communications as well as Americans’. His theft of the data raised concerns that China and Russia have access to U.S. national-security secrets.
Snowden’s revelations damaged U.S. relations with an array of foreign governments and sparked national debate on whether the pursuit of terrorism suspects has led to excessive intrusion into the personal lives of millions of people worldwide. His grant of asylum in Russia has also added to the irritations between the U.S. and Russia, which are already feuding over the war in Syria, human rights and more recently Russian aggression against Ukraine.
In a May interview with NBC’s Brian Williams, Snowden said he missed the United States but worried that he would have little chance of getting a fair trial if he returned to face the three felony charges that have been filed against him, each carrying a 10-year prison term on conviction.
Snowden was back in the news Tuesday after it was disclosed that U.S. Secret Service agents had arrested Russian computer hacker Roman Seleznev in the Maldives and transferred him to the U.S. territory of Guam, nearly 5,000 miles away, to face charges associated with the theft of retailers’ computer databases containing 600,000 consumers’ credit-card information. Eight Puget Sound-area restaurants are among the victimized retailers. Seleznev, 30, was described by the Secret Service as “one of the world’s most prolific traffickers of stolen financial information.”
His father, Russian lawmaker Valery Seleznev, told Russian media he suspected his son had been arrested on bogus charges to give the U.S. government someone to offer in trade for the extradition of Snowden.
Material from The New York Times and The Seattle Times archive is included in this report.