RT reported Friday evening that Russia has never considered handing Edward Snowden, the former NSA employee turned whistleblower to the United States in exchange for easing sanctions.
“I have never discussed Edward Snowden with [Donald Trump’s] administration,” Lavrov told Channel 4’s Cathy Newman. He added that President Vladimir Putin had addressed the issue years ago, however.
“When he was asked the question, he said this is for Edward Snowden to decide. We respect his rights, as an individual. That is why we were not in a position to expel him against his will, because he found himself in Russia even without a US passport, which was discontinued as he was flying from Hong Kong,” Lavrov recalled.
Snowden, the man behind the biggest exposure in years of the US electronic surveillance apparatus, got stranded in Russia when Washington withdrew his passport as he was travelling via Moscow from Hong Kong. The Russian government eventually granted him political asylum. Snowden is facing prosecution in the US for leaking classified documents to a number of media outlets.
The Channel 4 correspondent suggested during the interview that Russia may try to bargain Snowden for the lifting of US sanctions, during the upcoming meeting between Putin and Trump.
“I do not know why people would start asking this particular question in relation to the summit. Edward Snowden is the master of his own destiny,” Lavrov reiterated.
Edward Snowden has been living in Russia since 2013. On June 4th, the anniversary date of when the UK’s Guardian first broke the news that the NSA was illegally – and massively – spying on citizens of the US, the newspaper interviewed Mr. Snowden via phone. Snowden spoke very plainly on his views:
Edward Snowden … is satisfied with the way his revelations of mass surveillance have rocked governments, intelligence agencies and major internet companies.
… [Mr. Snowden] recalled the day his world – and that of many others around the globe – changed for good. He went to sleep in his Hong Kong hotel room and when he woke, the news that the National Security Agency had been vacuuming up the phone data of millions of Americans had been live for several hours.
Snowden knew at that moment his old life was over. “It was scary but it was liberating,” he said. “There was a sense of finality. There was no going back.”
In late May and early June of 2013, the NSA contractor fled his job and the United States with a massive trove of recorded communications from the NSA, the Department of Defense, and the US Defense Intelligence agencies. According to Wikipedia’s entry:
The exact size of Snowden’s disclosure is unknown, but Australian officials have estimated 15,000 or more Australian intelligence files and British officials estimate at least 58,000 British intelligence files. NSA Director Keith Alexander initially estimated that Snowden had copied anywhere from 50,000 to 200,000 NSA documents. Later estimates provided by U.S. officials were on the order of 1.7 million, a number that originally came from Department of Defense talking points. In July 2014, The Washington Post reported on a cache previously provided by Snowden from domestic NSA operations consisting of “roughly 160,000 intercepted e-mail and instant-message conversations, some of them hundreds of pages long, and 7,900 documents taken from more than 11,000 online accounts.” A U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency report declassified in June 2015 said that Snowden took 900,000 Department of Defense files, more than he downloaded from the NSA.
The news about the NSA activities was one of the biggest stories of 2013. Snowden has been praised by many for exposing a plethora of illegal practices done by the intelligence agency he worked for, and he also has been called a traitor by Americans of both political party leanings. He is presently serving as the president of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, which aims to protect journalists from hacking and government interference.
His disclosures of sensitive information are seen by some as resulting in some positive changes. While electronic surveillance of private citizens is as pervasive as ever, as shown by these two Duran pieces, Mr. Snowden sees that change has happened:
“People say nothing has changed: that there is still mass surveillance. That is not how you measure change. Look back before 2013 and look at what has happened since. Everything changed.”The most important change, he said, was public awareness. “The government and corporate sector preyed on our ignorance. But now we know. People are aware now. People are still powerless to stop it but we are trying. The revelations made the fight more even.”
And even the intelligence agencies he exposed acknowledge this, sometimes in odd ways:
There was a plus for the agencies. Having scrapped so much, they were forced to develop and install new and better capabilities faster than planned. Another change came in the area of transparency. Before Snowden, media requests to GCHQ were usually met with no comment whereas now there is more of a willingness to engage.
Jeremy Fleming, the director of the UK’s GCHQ surveillance agency (itself one of Snowden’s targets) noted that Snowden compromised the stated mission of the agency “to keep the UK safe.”
“What Edward Snowden did five years ago was illegal and compromised our ability to do that, causing real and unnecessary damage to the security of the UK and our allies. He should be accountable for that.”
In [Mr. Fleming‘s] statement, he expressed a commitment to openness but pointedly did not credit Snowden, saying the change predated 2013. “It is important that we continue to be as open as we can be, and I am committed to the journey we began over a decade ago to greater transparency,” he said.
Others in the intelligence community, especially in the US, will grudgingly credit Snowden for starting a much-needed debate about where the line should be drawn between privacy and surveillance. The former deputy director of the NSA Richard Ledgett, when retiring last year, said the government should have made public the fact there was bulk collection of phone data.
The former GCHQ director Sir David Omand shared Fleming’s assessment of the damage but admitted Snowden had contributed to the introduction of new legislation. “A sounder and more transparent legal framework is now in place for necessary intelligence gathering. That would have happened eventually, of course, but his actions certainly hastened the process,” Omand said.
Ross Anderson, a leading academic specialising in cybersecurity and privacy, sees the Snowden revelations as a seminal moment. Anderson, a professor of security engineering at Cambridge University’s computer laboratory, said: “Snowden’s revelations are one of these flashbulb moments which change the way people look at things. They may not have changed things much in Britain because of our culture for adoring James Bond and all his works. But round the world it brought home to everyone that surveillance really is an issue.”