Fugitive NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has broken his silence and lashed out at U.S. President Barack Obama for pressuring world leaders to deny him asylum.
His comments, posted in an editorial on the whistleblowing site Wikileaks, came soon after reports emerged on Monday night that Snowden, who has been holed up in Sheremetyevo Airport’s transit zone for over a week, has asked for political asylum in Russia.
“On Thursday, President Obama declared before the world that he would not permit any diplomatic ‘wheeling and dealing’ over my case,” Snowden, a former contractor for the U.S. National Security Agency wanted by the United States for leaking reports about a top-secret surveillance program, wrote.
“Yet now it is being reported that after promising not to do so, the President ordered his Vice President [Joe Biden]to pressure the leaders of nations from which I have requested protection to deny my asylum petitions,” Snowden said.
“This kind of deception from a world leader is not justice, and neither is the extralegal penalty of exile. These are the old, bad tools of political aggression. Their purpose is to frighten, not me, but those who would come after me,” he added. “For decades the United States of America has been one of the strongest defenders of the human right to seek asylum. Sadly, this right… is now being rejected by the current government of my country. The Obama administration has now adopted the strategy of using citizenship as a weapon” by revoking Snowden’s passport.
Snowden has not been spotted by journalists in Sheremetyevo’s transit zone since arriving from Hong Kong on June 23.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had suggested Monday that Snowden could stay in Russia, but only on “one condition: He must stop his work aimed at harming our US partners, as strange as this may sound coming from me,” Putin said at a press conference Monday evening after a meeting with leaders of countries from the Gas Exporting Countries Forum, including Bolivia and Venezuela, where Snowden reportedly has also sought asylum.
Putin called Snowden “a fighter for human rights, for democracy” and compared him to Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov. “Precisely because he feels himself to be a rights campaigner, evidently he does not intend to stop this work. So he should choose a country and move there,” he said according to an official transcript of the news conference posted on the presidential site.
Shortly after Putin’s comments, reports emerged that Snowden had requested Russian asylum.
"At 22:30 Moscow time yesterday [on Sunday], UK citizen Sarah Harrison addressed the consulate in the Sheremetyevo Airport with a request on behalf of Edward Snowden to grant him political asylum,” Kim Shevchenko, the consulate’s diplomat on duty, was quoted by RIA Novosti as saying.
Wikileaks confirmed Tuesday that Russia was among 21 countries where Snowden had requested asylum, including Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Ecuador, as well as India, Italy, and Poland.
Polish Foreign Affairs Minister Radoslaw Sikorski confirmed on his Twitter that Snowden had filed an asylum request, but wrote that “even if it was filled out correctly, I would not give him a positive recommendation.”
The U.S. had held “high-level discussions with the Russians about trying to find a solution to the problem" of Snowden’s extradition, President Obama said on Monday during an official visit to Tanzania. Earlier on Monday, Russian Security Council head Nikolai Patrushev had said that the presidents of Russia and the United States had instructed the heads of both countries’ national security services, the FSB and the FBI, to “keep constant contact and search for a possible solution,” RIA Novosti reported.