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Beyond his Moscow airport limbo, indignities await Edward Snowden

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Invasive tests for the AIDS virus and other sexually transmitted diseases. A bed in a provincial refugee hostel and little prospect of a decent job. That is what NSA leaker Edward Snowden can expect if and when he is allowed out of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport to await word on his application for temporary refuge, Russian media observed in a flurry of articles and commentaries Monday.

The reports by the Russia Today network and the official Itar-Tass news service were replete with admonition and doom-filled forecasts. The warnings seemed to suggest that Russian officials, rather than making a no-win decision between extraditing Snowden to Washington or granting him temporary asylum, are simply dragging their feet in hopes that the political albatross decides on his own to end his monthlong limbo in the bowels of Moscow’s main international airport.

Snowden, 30, has been stuck in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo since his arrival from Hong Kong on June 23, a day after his U.S. passport was revoked for his disclosure of top-secret National Security Agency surveillance programs that collect private communications data on millions. With no valid travel document, Snowden can neither clear Russian passport control and enter the capital, nor can he buy tickets to fly to another destination.

“Snowden has been living in Sheremetyevo airport for over a month, and there is no doubt that the lack of fresh air, dietary options and ability to move freely has put enormous strain on him,” Russia Today began its commentary titled “The Layover From Hell.”

It noted that should the fugitive’s July 16 application for temporary asylum be accepted, “he will have to undergo a daunting medical assessment designed especially for immigrants.” That would include screening for HIV, tuberculosis, leprosy and the sexually transmitted disease chancroid, the network noted.

Snowden will have to register his whereabouts with police at all times and will probably be limited to finding a room in a processing facility for asylum seekers far from the capital.

“There are no such facilities in Moscow, and ones in the vicinity have been flooded with refugees escaping the Syrian conflict,” human rights lawyer Elena Ryabinina told the Gazeta.ru online newspaper. She said the nearest one with vacancy was probably Perm, 600 miles east of Moscow and the site of one of Russia’s most notorious prisons.

Piling on the unsolicited advice about Snowden's travel and accommodation woes was the spokesman for the Federal Migration Service that is reviewing his petition for asylum.

“I don’t think it is good for Snowden to travel freely in Russia, as he is a wanted man,” said the migration service press secretary, Vladimir Volokh. He observed that outside of the airport, “his personal security cannot be guaranteed.”

That is a loaded phrase implying that Russian security agents won’t be watching his back for any CIA-style operations of the type that snatched terrorism suspects off foreign streets and “renditioned” them to U.S. custody for interrogation.

Soviet-era defectors who took refuge in Russia generally suffered miserable fates, the network noted.

“Kim Philby and Guy Burgess drank themselves to death in their state-allocated flats, awaiting a world revolution that never came,” the article recalled of British double agents who defected to Moscow in the 1960s and never adjusted to their lives in exile.

Itar-Tass took a similarly warning tone in an article that sounded out Russian information technology leaders about the prospects of Snowden finding a job in his field of data analysis, if and when he gets out of the airport. IT companies “are in no haste to offer a job” to the fugitive, who would be of more use to Russian intelligence or security forces, the news agency said.

“The risk of giving a job to Snowden is that he already showed his disloyalty to the employer once,” said Yelena Semenova, a deputy director for personnel management at the Informzashchita company, a name that translates as “information defense.”

Other leading tech companies told the news service that they had no idea of Snowden’s skill level, as all that is known about him is what he has disclosed in defiance of security clearances that governed his job with NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamilton in Hawaii.

Snowden is stuck in the airport “because he has been trapped,” political analyst Fyodor Lukyanov, who edits the journal Russia in Global Affairs, told Russia Today. “There is a possibility that the most eventful part of his life is already behind him.... In all likelihood, Snowden will have nothing to do in Russia.”

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Twitter: @cjwilliamslat

carol.williams@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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RussiaEdward SnowdenDiseases and IllnessesMoscow (Russia)Hotels and AccommodationsNational Security AgencyScience
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