Fugitive NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s offer to testify in Germany about controversial U.S. surveillance programs drew a swift warning from the Kremlin on Friday that he would lose his Russian asylum if he travels abroad or discloses U.S. intelligence secrets while in Russia.
In an open letter made public Friday in Berlin by a German lawmaker, Snowden alluded to “the difficulties of this humanitarian situation,” referring to the conditions of his Russian protection from U.S. extradition requests.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said weeks before granting Snowden temporary asylum that the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor could stay in Russia only if he refrained from further efforts “aimed at harming our American partners.”
Anatoly Kucherena, Snowden’s Kremlin-supplied lawyer, denied in an interview with Russia Today television that Snowden has violated the condition that he stop leaking sensitive NSA information. Kucherena said the scandal-inducing leaks about U.S. spying on allies worldwide were all disclosed to journalist intermediaries before he arrived in Moscow on June 23.
But Kucherena warned that if Snowden were to leave Russia, as he offered in the letter given to visiting German Greens Party member Hans-Christian Stroebele on Thursday, that his Aug. 1 asylum grant would be voided.
“He can’t leave Russia. As you know, he got refugee status and if he moves to a different country, he loses this status,” Kucherena told RT through a translator.
The lawyer said Snowden could answer any questions German lawmakers may have for him “through treaties signed between Germany and Russia, so he doesn’t need to travel to give evidence.”
Kucherena seemed to carve out an exception to Snowden’s no-more-leaking order when he told the RT interviewer that information disclosed while the fugitive was in Hong Kong in the weeks before his arrival to Russia was already in the public domain and not a violation of his asylum conditions.
Among the sweeping NSA intelligence-gathering efforts revealed by Snowden was the alleged data surveillance of millions of phone calls, emails and text messages of German citizens, including monitoring of the personal cellphone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Politicians in Germany’s Bundestag lower house have called for investigative hearings into the alleged U.S. snooping.
In Snowden’s letter offering his testimony on the NSA intercepting German communications, he appealed for international help in getting relief from what he called “a severe and sustained campaign of persecution” by U.S. authorities.
After Snowden left his NSA job in Honolulu for Hong Kong and disclosed to journalists what he considered evidence of excessive and illegal surveillance, the U.S. Justice Department canceled his U.S. passport and issued international warrants for his extradition. He has been charged in absentia with espionage and theft of classified information.
Snowden met with Stroebele in Moscow on Thursday and gave an interview to a German journalist from ARD public television and a former editor of Der Spiegel, who accompanied the veteran leftist lawmaker on his Russia visit.
ARD reported that it would “theoretically be possible to assure Snowden safe passage to Berlin” to testify to parliament about the NSA programs. But the broadcast also quoted Snowden as acknowledging his “complicated legal situation.” Although opposition figures like Stroebele might want to accommodate Snowden with asylum in Germany, the conservatives in power are unlikely to defy their U.S. ally’s extradition request.
Der Spiegel, in its report on the Snowden interview, said the German Justice Ministry had confirmed that the U.S. government has already filed an extradition request with Berlin “as a precautionary step” in the event Snowden travels to Germany.