Edward Snowden accuses US of illegal, aggressive campaign

The American whistleblower
Edward Snowden has accused the
US of waging a campaign of
"historically disproportionate
aggression" against him during an
extraordinary meeting with human
rights activists and Russian officials
at the Moscow airport where he has
been trapped since 23 June.
In his first appearance since
disclosing his identity in the
Guardian last month, Snowden
insisted he had no regrets and had
made a "moral decision" to leak
dozens of secret documents
outlining US surveillance
programmes. He also announced
that he would apply for political
asylum from the Kremlin and
appealed to those present for help
in leaving the airport.
The US has lobbied governments
around the world to refuse entry to
Snowden and has invalidated his
US passport.
Last week, a plane carrying the
Bolivian president, Evo Morales,
was grounded in Vienna after
several European countries blocked
their airspace amid suspicions that
Snowden was on board.
"The government and intelligence
services of the United States of
America have attempted to make
an example of me, a warning to all
others who might speak out as I
have," Snowden said. "I have been
made stateless and hounded for my
act of political expression."
White House spokesman Jay Carney
has accused Russia of "providing a
propaganda platform" for
Snowden, which "runs counter to
the Russian government's previous
declarations of Russia's neutrality".
He said during a White House
briefing: "It's also incompatible
with Russian assurances that they
do not want Mr Snowden to
further damage US interests." He
urged Russia to hand Snowden over
to face charges in the US but added
that the US didn't want the affair to
damage America's relations with
Russia. Pointedly, he said the
Russian government should permit
human rights groups to do their
work "throughout Russia, not just
at the Moscow transit lounge".
The US president, Barack Obama,
spoke to his Russian counterpart,
Vladimir Putin, by telephone on
Friday evening but there was no
breakthrough on the issue.
Carney said: "We continue to
discuss with Russia our strongly
held view that there is absolute
legal justification for him to be
expelled, for him to be returned to
the United States, to face the
charges that have been brought
against him for the unauthorised
leaking of classified information."
Asked about the involvement of
Amnesty International and Human
Rights Watch, both of which sent
representatives to meet Snowden,
Carney replied: "Those groups do
important work. But Snowden is
not a human rights activist or a
dissident. He is accused of leaking
classified information, has been
charged with three felony counts,
and should be returned to the
United States, where he will be
afforded full due process."
Snowden appeared relaxed and in
good spirits in camera-phone
footage posted on the website of the
Russian tabloid newspaper
LifeNews. At one point, as he was
assailing the US for attempting to
"legitimise an illegal affair", an
airport announcement broke in.
He smiled: "I've heard this many
times."
Snowden said he would request
asylum in Russia until he was
permitted to travel to Latin
America. Venezuela has offered
him political asylum but he
remains unable to travel there
without travel documents.
Snowden praised Venezuela, as
well as Russia, Bolivia, Nicaragua
and Ecuador for "being the first to
stand against human rights
violations carried out by the
powerful rather than the
powerless" and for "refusing to
compromise their principles in the
face of intimidation".
Russia has one of the world's
poorest reputations for human
rights. In the past week alone, it
brought in two big decisions
against its main whistleblowers:
the lawyer Sergei Magnitsky was
found posthumously guilty of
committing tax fraud, and a judge
announced he would soon issue a
verdict against corruption activist
Alexei Navalny.
Several officials close to the
Kremlin attended Friday's 5pm
meeting at Sheremetyevo, including
Vyacheslav Nikonov, an MP with
Putin's United Russia party, and
Vladimir Lukin, Putin's human
rights ombudsman. Nikonov said
he had asked Snowden how he was
enjoying his time in Russia. "He
laughed – and said, it's safe here,"
Nikonov said.
Earlier this month, Snowden
withdrew a request for asylum in
Russia, a move the Kremlin
explained by saying he had not
agreed with terms set out by Putin
calling on him to "stop bringing
harm to our American partners".
According to attendees, Snowden
argued that his leaks were serving,
rather than harming, the American
people. "He said he doesn't want to
bring harm to the United States and
sees himself as a law-abiding
citizen and a patriot," Nikonov
said.
Sergei Naryshkin, speaker of the
Duma and a close Putin ally, said
Russia should grant Snowden
asylum.
Nikonov and other attendees,
including Tanya Lokshina of
Human Rights Watch and Sergei
Nikitin of Amnesty International,
were swarmed by journalists as
they arrived at Sheremetyevo.
Correspondents mobbed the
activists as they made their way
toward an airport employee with a
sign reading "G9", identified in
Snowden's invitation email as the
marker that would lead them to
him.
Lokshina said the US embassy had
contacted her en route to the
airport urging her to tell Snowden
that the US position was that "he is
not a human rights defender, he is
not a whistleblower, and that he
violated the law and should be held
responsible". She said she told
Snowden, who responded that "he
understands that the US authorities
look at the situation in that way,
but he completely disagrees with
that approach".
The horde followed the airport
employee upstairs, with journalists
running up downward escalators to
get ahead, and the invitees were
ushered through a service door
guarded by police and into a
hallway with a metal detector.
Lokshina later said that they did
not undergo any security checks
and were only asked to not film the
event.
The atmosphere was tense as
journalists crowded to get footage
and quotes after they emerged from
the 45-minute meeting. At least one
fistfight erupted between two
cameramen who punched each
other in the ribs.
Friday's proceedings left little
doubt that the Russian authorities
are actively involved in Snowden's
stay at Sheremetyevo. Airport staff
organised and conducted the event,
and order was kept by a small
cadre of police officers. Attendees
said the meeting was watched by
men in suits, whom Nikitin said
looked like government operatives:
"I'm no expert, but if a man in a
tie is standing there with a military
bearing and a serviceman's
expression, who is he, a school
teacher?"
Nikonov, the Kremlin-friendly MP,
agreed: "I think that he [Snowden]
has guards, given the
circumstances."
Russia has denied any involvement
in Snowden's plight and continues
to insist he is not on Russian
territory since he has not crossed
the border at Sheremetyevo.
Snowden stressed in his statement
that he "did not partner with any
foreign government to guarantee
my safety. Instead, I took what I
knew to the public, so what affects
all of us can be discussed by all of
us in the light of day, and I asked
the world for justice."
Attendees said Snowden looked
mentally and physically healthy,
despite weeks in the halls of
Sheremetyevo. "He smiled, he
looked confident, he looked like he
believes he's in the right," Nikonov
said. "I can't say he impressed me
as a well-fed young man, but he's
never been very bulky. And he has
a great haircut.
"He didn't joke, because he
understands the seriousness of the
situation."
Nikitin said: "He didn't look scared,
he looked cheerful … although his
face looked a little pale, you can
understand why if a person is
located the whole time within four
walls."
Some attendees said Snowden
appeared desperate to get out of the
airport. "I got the feeling that after
all this, he just wants to physically
get out of these premises, and this is
the only way to get out of them,"
Nikitin said.