During Tenure In Russia, Edward Snowden Has Kept A Low Profile
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
This month marks three years since Edward Snowden fled to Russia. The NSA-contractor-turned-whistleblower usually keeps a low profile, but lately he's been speaking out against new surveillance legislation in Russia. NPR's Mary Louise Kelly has this update on his uneasy residence there.
(SOUNDBITE OF AIRPORT ANNOUNCEMENT)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Russian).
MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: This is the arrivals hall at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow - typical big, international airport. Bleary-eyed travelers all around me, wheeling their suitcases. This is the airport that Edward Snowden exited three years ago to begin a new life. So I'm basically about to retrace his footsteps - head out into a summer day in Moscow and see what the day brings.
What the day brings is rumors. People here love to gossip about Snowden. They will tell you they spotted him at the supermarket or riding the escalator up from the Metro. But press them on whether they saw him firsthand, and the stories start to disintegrate. One of the few who's actually laid eyes on him and can prove it is Tanya Lokshina.
TANYA LOKSHINA: Because I actually made a photograph of Edward Snowden on my Blackberry straight away. I was in the first row.
KELLY: The first row of a surreal press conference.
LOKSHINA: Well, the weirdest part about this weird press conference was that it was a press conference without the press.
KELLY: This is true. Snowden's press conference unfolded inside the Moscow airport. No journalists were there. Tanya Lokshina was invited because she runs Russia's office of Human Rights Watch. The picture she snapped went viral, bouncing around the world. This was July 2013, and it was one of the last confirmed sightings of Snowden on the ground here. One big question is - what has he been doing since?
MARK GALEOTTI: The point at which he put his first foot on Russian soil - at that point, he was bought and paid for.
KELLY: That's Mark Galeotti, an authority on Russia spy agencies, also a professor at NYU. He believes Snowden has almost certainly shared what he knows - secrets about NSA operations - with his Russian hosts. I put this question to Frants Klintsevich. He's the equivalent of a senator here in Russia and deputy chairman of the powerful defense and security committee.
FRANTS KLINTSEVICH: (Speaking Russian).
KELLY: "Let's be frank," he says. "Snowden did share intelligence. This is what security services do," adds Klintsevich. "If there's a possibility to get information, they will get it." It's a possibility that Snowden's lawyer, Ben Wizner of the ACLU, denies.
BEN WIZNER: Of course, it's impossible to prove a negative. But as he has made clear, he didn't even bring sensitive information with him to Russia, precisely because he didn't want to be in a position where he could be coerced. He was approached. He made very clear that he had no intention of cooperating, and he has not.
KELLY: In the U.S., intelligence officials insist Snowden's disclosures did grave damage to national security. Whatever he may or may not have shared with the Russian government, Snowden still faces charges of violating the Espionage Act - crimes that could land him many years in prison. When I reached him in New York, I asked Wizner about the other big question looming over Snowden's stay here - how long it might last. Wizner conceded his client is not a man with a lot of options.
WIZNER: The first is to be where he is in Russia. And the second is to be in a maximum security prison cell, cut off from the world. Of course we're working on option three.
KELLY: Which Wizner defines as either somehow returning to the U.S., quote, "in dignity" or winning guarantee of safe passage to some other country. Snowden himself declined our request for an interview, but he's active on Twitter, with more than 2 million followers. Snowden follows only one account - the National Security Agency. Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.