Snowden claims US campaign of ‘historically disproportionate aggression’ against him

At Moscow airport press conference, whistleblower says he has no regrets about leaks

 Edward Snowden attends a press conference at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport with Sarah Harrison of WikiLeaks yesterday. Photograph: AP Photo/Human Rights Watch, Tanya Lokshina

Edward Snowden attends a press conference at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport with Sarah Harrison of WikiLeaks yesterday. Photograph: AP Photo/Human Rights Watch, Tanya Lokshina


US whistleblower Edward Snowden yesterday accused the US of waging a campaign of “historically disproportionate aggression” against him during an extraordinary meeting with human rights activists and Russian officials at the Moscow airport where he has been trapped since June 23rd.

In his first appearance since disclosing his identity in the Guardian last month, Mr Snowden insisted he had no regrets and had made a “moral decision” to leak dozens of secret documents outlining US surveillance programmes. He also announced he would apply for political asylum from the Kremlin and appealed to those present for help in leaving the airport.

The US has lobbied governments around the world to refuse entry to Mr Snowden and has invalidated his US passport.

“The government and intelligence services of the United States of America have attempted to make an example of me, a warning to all others who might speak out as I have,” Mr Snowden said. “I have been made stateless and hounded for my act of political expression.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney accused Russia of “providing a propaganda platform” for Mr Snowden “counter to the Russian government’s previous declarations of Russia’s neutrality”. He said: “It’s also incompatible with Russian assurances that they do not want Mr Snowden to further damage US interests.”

President Obama was scheduled to speak to his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, by telephone last night.

Mr Snowden appeared relaxed and in good spirits in camera-phone footage posted on the website of the Russian tabloid newspaper LifeNews. At one point, as he was assailing the US for attempting to “legitimise an illegal affair”, an airport announcement broke in. He smiled: “I’ve heard this many times.”

Mr Snowden said he would request asylum in Russia until he was permitted to travel to Latin America. Venezuela has offered him political asylum but he remains unable to go there without travel documents.

He praised Venezuela, as well as Russia, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador, for “being the first to stand against human rights violations carried out by the powerful rather than the powerless” and for “refusing to compromise their principles in the face of intimidation”.

Russia has one of the world’s poorest reputations for human rights. In the past week it brought in two big decisions against whistleblowers: the lawyer Sergei Magnitsky was found posthumously guilty of tax fraud, and a judge announced he would soon issue a verdict against corruption activist Alexei Navalny.

Several officials close to the Kremlin attended yesterday’s 5pm meeting at Sheremetyevo, including Vyacheslav Nikonov, an MP with Mr Putin’s United Russia party, and Vladimir Lukin, Mr Putin’s human rights ombudsman. Mr Nikonov said he had asked Mr Snowden how he was enjoying his time in Russia. “He laughed – and said, it’s safe here,” Mr Nikonov said.

Earlier this month, Mr Snowden withdrew a request for asylum in Russia, a move the Kremlin explained by saying he had not agreed with terms set out by Mr Putin calling on him to “stop bringing harm to our American partners”.

According to attendees, Mr Snowden argued that his leaks were serving, rather than harming, the American people. “He said he doesn’t want to bring harm to the United States and sees himself as a law-abiding citizen and a patriot,” Mr Nikonov said.

Sergei Naryshkin, speaker of the Duma and a close Putin ally, said Russia should grant Mr Snowden asylum.

Mr Nikonov and other attendees, including Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch and Sergei Nikitin of Amnesty International, were surrounded by journalists as they arrived at Sheremetyevo. Correspondents mobbed each of the activists as they made their way towards an airport employee with a sign reading “G9”, identified in Mr Snowden’s invitation email as the marker that would lead them to him.

Yesterday’s proceedings left little doubt that the Russian authorities were actively involved in Snowden’s stay at Sheremetyevo. Airport staff organised and conducted the event, and order was kept by a small cadre of police officers.

Russia has denied any involvement in Snowden’s plight.

Separately, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore said yesterday that asylum applications in Ireland were dealt with on their merits through a robust, transparent process but only for those already in the country.

Application for asylum
“If he [Mr Snowden] were to come to Ireland and make an application for asylum, his application would be dealt with in this way,” said Mr Gilmore, speaking on the second day of a visit to Washington.

He was responding to a question about how the Government would deal with an application from Mr Snowden if he travelled through Ireland en route from Russia to South America.

Any international arrest warrant issued for Mr Snowden was a law enforcement matter for the Irish courts, said Mr Gilmore. “They are not decisions that are made by politicians or by diplomats,” he said.

Revelations that the US National Security Agency was eavesdropping on EU decision-making in Brussels, as disclosed by Mr Snowden, was “quite shocking to Europeans”, Mr Gilmore said.

“Friends don’t eavesdrop on each other. If that has been happening, then it is a line that should not have been crossed,” he said.– (Guardian service)