Snowden indicates willingness to testify before Bundestag
Contents of letter to Merkel to be revealed at press conference today
German Greens MP Hans-Christian Ströbele poses for a picture with former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in an undisclosed location in Moscow yesterday. Mr Snowden passed on an envelope with a letter addressed to the German government, its lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, and to the federal public prosecutor. The letter is to be disclosed during a news conference today in Berlin. Photograph: Reuters
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has indicated that he is willing to testify before a Bundestag committee into the widespread US surveillance programmes he helped expose.
On Thursday afternoon the former NSA contractor met German Green MP Hans-Christian Ströbele in Moscow at an undisclosed location. Mr Ströbele said afterwards Mr Snowden had given him a letter for Chancellor Angela Merkel, the contents of which will be revealed at a press conference at lunchtime today in Berlin
The Green politician and two German journalists travelled to Moscow and were collected from their hotel in a minibus by security guards yesterday at 4pm local time. They were then brought to the three-hour meeting, of which a brief mobile phone video of a laughing Mr Snowden and a photograph of him with Mr Ströbele have emerged.
“He made clear that he knows an awful lot,” said Mr Ströbele. “As long as the NSA and its chief, Alexander, doesn’t clear things up, [Snowden] is prepared to come to Germany and testify, though the circumstances have yet to be clarified.”
Leaving Russia, where he was granted asylum in August, could cause difficulties for the 30-year-old exile. If he leaves the country, his asylum will lapse. To testify in Berlin, Germany would have to grant him asylum and ignore an extradition warrant the US has already filed as a precaution.
An offer from Mr Snowden to testify in Berlin presents a dilemma for the government of Angela Merkel. She has criticised NSA spying on German communications, including her own mobile phone, and demanded a full explanation from Washington. Her top foreign adviser flew to Washington on Wednesday to meet high-ranking US officials, at which a no-spy agreement was said to have been discussed.
But her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has been cautious about backing a full parliamentary inquiry into US surveillance in Germany. After the revelations that the NSA tapped Dr Merkel’s mobile phone, however, the CDU indicated that they would not try to block any Bundestag investigation.
That move has now opened the door to Mr Snowden, a man Mr Ströbele described yesterday as the “principal witness” in any investigation.
It remains to be seen how the German authorities will react to an potential asylum application by Mr Snowden. In July, Berlin rejected the idea of granting him asylum, saying an applicant could only seek asylum in Germany by presenting themselves at the border.
Mr Ströbele and his Green Party have been among the loudest advocates of asylum for Mr Snowden, even suggesting he should be offered a place in Germany’s witness protection programme.