Edward Snowden, the fugitive former U.S. contractor residing in Russia under temporary asylum, is appealing to the local government for protection after receiving threats against his life, his lawyer in Moscow said.
“He has no other option but to seek protection and ask for the situation to be cleared up,” Anatoly Kucherena said by phone yesterday. “There are worries and alarm about statements and actions on the part of some officials.”
Kucherena, who has represented Snowden’s interests in Russia since he sought refuge last July after leaking classified National Security Agency documents, pointed to reports on Buzzfeed this month that contained threats allegedly made by unidentified U.S. officials.
Snowden received a year’s sanctuary in Russia in August after a monthlong confinement in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. After months of debate instigated by Snowden’s leaks, President Barack Obama responded Jan. 17 by endorsing action to assure American citizens and allies that their privacy is protected while committing to few specifics.
Obama canceled a September meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin after the decision to grant Snowden temporary asylum.
Asked about the reported threats, the White House didn’t answer directly. “Mr. Snowden is accused of a felony and needs to return to the U.S. to face charges, where he will be afforded all due process and protections,” Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for Obama’s National Security Council, said in an e-mail.
“Edward really believes his life and safety are at risk,” Kucherena said, adding that his client has private protection. “Since he’s a temporary refugee, he has the same rights and responsibilities as any Russian citizen.”
Snowden hasn’t received notice from the U.S. that he’s being held accountable for any crime, according to Kucherena.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, who said she hadn’t read the Buzzfeed article, called any such threats against Snowden “totally inappropriate” and having “no place in our discussion of these issues.”
If he returned to the U.S., Snowden would receive the same legal protections as any other citizen accused of a crime, Harf said, referring to a letter months ago on the matter from Attorney General Eric Holder.
In an interview Jan. 19 on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and the House Intelligence Committee chairman, described the 30-year-old American as “a thief” who had possible Russian assistance and has “incredibly harmed” the U.S. military.
Rogers has offered the only public characterization of a classified Defense Department report on Snowden, saying it concluded that he downloaded about 1.7 million intelligence files while working for McLean, Virginia-based Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee, said while appearing with Rogers on NBC that Snowden “may well have” had assistance. Representative Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican who’s chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said the same day on ABC’s “This Week” that he thought Snowden had help.
Russia isn’t controlling Snowden as an intelligence asset or offering him aid beyond a safe haven, Putin said Dec. 19. Snowden hasn’t been questioned about U.S. intelligence activities regarding Russia, according to Putin.
“I’ll tell you in semiprofessional language: we aren’t working with him and haven’t worked with him in investigative terms,” he said.
The U.S. has accused Snowden of theft and espionage for leaking documents to the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper and the Washington Post last year that unveiled the breadth of the NSA’s collection of Internet and telephone records.
Snowden, who first went to Hong Kong after leaking the documents, has said his goal was to call the public’s attention to programs he believed had expanded with little meaningful oversight.
“There’s a reason he ended up in the hands, the loving arms, of an FSB agent in Moscow,” Rogers said, referring to Russia’s security agency. “There’s questions to be answered there. I don’t think it was a gee-whiz luck event that he ended up in Moscow under the handling of the FSB.”