BERLIN — The U.S. refused to show any leniency to fugitive leaker Edward Snowden on Friday, even as Secretary of State John Kerry conceded eavesdropping on allies had happened on “automatic pilot” and went too far.
Snowden made his appeal for U.S. clemency in a letter released Friday by a German lawmaker who met with him in Moscow. In it, Snowden, 30, asked for international help to persuade the U.S. to drop spying charges against him and said he would like to testify before the U.S. Congress about the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance activities.
Snowden also indicated he would be willing to help German officials investigate alleged U.S. spying in Germany, said Hans-Christian Stroebele, a lawmaker with the opposition Green Party and a member of the parliamentary committee that oversees German intelligence.
Stroebele met with Snowden for three hours Thursday, a week after accusations that the NSA had monitored Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone prompted her to complain personally to President Obama.
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The suspected spying has produced the most serious diplomatic tensions between the two allies since Germany opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
In the typed letter, written in English and bearing signatures that Stroebele said were his own and Snowden’s, the American complained that the U.S. government “continues to treat dissent as defection, and seeks to criminalize political speech with felony charges that provide no defense.”
“However, speaking the truth is not a crime,” Snowden wrote. “I am confident that with the support of the international community, the government of the United States will abandon this harmful behavior.”
In Washington, D.C., State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. position “has not changed.”
Snowden’s father, Lon Snowden, who recently visited his son in Russia, said Snowden will not travel to Germany to talk to authorities as long as the U.S. charges remain in place. “If they want to understand my son’s position about Germany, read his letter. It’s pretty clear. He is not going to Germany to testify as long as he is indicted by the United States and their position is what it is,” the elder Snowden said, adding that his son would prefer to testify before Congress anyway.
“My son would love to come back to the United States but I’m not sure it will be safe for him, even if all charges are dropped,” Lon Snowden said. “My advice would be to stay in Russia and move on with his life, and that’s what I believe he will do.”
Stroebele said Edward Snowden appeared healthy and cheerful during their meeting at an undisclosed location in Moscow. The German television network ARD, which accompanied Stroebele, said the Germans were taken to the meeting by unidentified security officials under “strict secrecy.”
The lawmaker, a prominent critic of the NSA’s reported activities, said Snowden “did not present himself to me as anti-American or anything like that — quite the contrary.”
Merkel this week sent German officials to Washington, D.C., for talks on the spying issue. Germany’s Parliament also is expected to discuss the NSA’s alleged spying.
Snowden was granted a one-year asylum in Russia in August after being stuck at a Moscow airport for more than a month after his arrival from Hong Kong. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Snowden got asylum on condition that he wouldn’t harm U.S. interests.
Snowden’s attorney Anatoly Kucherena warned that if Snowden were to leave Russia to testify, the asylum grant would be voided. “He can’t leave Russia. As you know, he got refugee status and if he moves to a different country, he loses this status,” Kucherena told RT.com through a translator.
Snowden’s exact location and his activities in Russia have been a mystery, though there has been wide speculation that he is under the control of Russia’s security services.
Kucherena said his client “enjoys living in Russia” and is studying Russian.
The Russian news site Life News on Thursday published a photo showing Snowden on a boat in the Moscow River with the Christ the Savior Cathedral in the background. It said the photo was taken in September.
Material from the Los Angeles Times is included in this report.