NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has decided to stick around in Russia for a little longer — provided authorities there are willing to keep thumbing their nose at the United States' entreaties to ship him home to face trial on charges of exposing intelligence secrets.
Snowden's Russian attorney, Anatoly Kucherena, told Russian news media Wednesday that he and his client "have submitted documents for extending his stay in Russia" past 31 July, when his temporary asylum is set to expire.
The Russian government granted Snowden asylum for a year last summer after he became stranded in a Moscow airport trying to fly from Hong Kong to Cuba. US officials had revoked his passport and charged him with espionage and theft of government property; Snowden could face up to 10 years in prison for each crime.
Snowden gained international attention when he used his top-secret security clearance to obtain and leak classified documents detailing the inner workings of the US intelligence community to the news media. His revelations were first published in The Washington Post and in Britain's Guardian newspaper.
The revelations have shed light on secret US government operations, including data mining and global Internet surveillance. But in that time, the United States has not been able to apprehend Snowden or even pin down much information about him — including some of the most basic facts about his existence.
A recent investigation by The Washington Post's Greg Miller revealed that the United States still does not know exactly where Snowden lives in Russia or how much regular contact he has with the Russian security services.
Despite high-level coordination among US intelligence agencies, Miller's investigation showed, US efforts remain largely dependent on Russia either slipping up or showing its hand. Without Russian cooperation, the United States has limited abilities to trace Snowden in and around Moscow, and unless the United States can show that Snowden is colluding with Russian authorities, it will be difficult to substantiate the most serious charges against him. There has been no determination that he is an "agent of a foreign power," a legal distinction required to make a US citizen a target of espionage overseas.
Snowden has maintained throughout his asylum that he has not cooperated with foreign authorities or passed on any classified US information to them.
US and Russian officials were expecting that Snowden would seek to renew his asylum as the expiration date approached. Kucherena would not say whether his client had applied for a simple extension of his asylum or some other status.
Karoun Demirjian – The Washington Post
Image: Frederick Florin / AFP / Lehtikuva