A day after President Barack Obama commuted the sentence of former U.S. Army analyst Chelsea Manning, ex-NSA contractor turned defector to Russia Edward Snowden received a gift from his new home country. The Russian government extended his asylum status to at least 2020, saying Snowden would be allowed to remain out of U.S. bounds “a couple more years” before any alternative action was taken. Or at least that was the Russian Foreign Ministry’s position prior to President Donald Trump’s new budding romance with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
According to NBC News, a senior American intelligence official with knowledge of of the matter claims information obtained from the Russian side of things suggests a Snowden handover to the Trump administration would be a “gift” to “curry favor” with the new president. An additional anonymous source corroborated the intelligence official’s claims with NBC News, adding the information “has been gathered since the inauguration.”
The White House provided comment to NBC News. Though Juan Zarate, a former deputy national security adviser under President George W. Bush, suggested the Trump administration remain “cautious” before accepting any such “gift” from Putin’s Russia:
“For Russia, this would be a win-win. They’ve already extracted what they needed from Edward Snowden in terms of information and they’ve certainly used him to beat the United States over the head in terms of its surveillance and cyber activity,” Zarate said.
“It would signal warmer relations and some desire for greater cooperation with the new administration, but it would also no doubt stoke controversies and cases in the U.S. around the role of surveillance, the role of the U.S. intelligence community, and the future of privacy and civil liberties in an American context.
“All of that would perhaps be music to the ears of Putin.”
In addition, both the Justice Department and a Putin spokesperson responded to NBC News regarding Snowden’s apparent “gift” status. The former said “it would welcome the return of Snowden,” whereas Dmitry Peskov refuted the U.S. intelligence official’s claims as “nonsense.”
Considering Trump’s past statements about Snowden, however, such a diplomatic move on the part of Russia wouldn’t be that far-fetched. In 2013, the New York real estate mogul described the former NSA contractor as a “spy who should be executed” on Twitter.”
Months later, he repeated himself on the same medium.
Ben Wizner, Snowden’s ACLU lawyer, said they have “received no such signals and has no new reason for concern.”
UPDATE: Snowden publicly commented on the NBC News report on Twitter, saying it offered “irrefutable evidence that I never cooperated with Russian intel.”
“No country trades away spies,” he added, “as the rest would fear they’re next.”
(Via NBC News)