Thursday, December 5, 2013
- By MATTHEW SCHOFIELD
Edward Snowden, center, holds a news conference at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport Friday with Sarah Harrison, left, of WikiLeaks. Snowden defended his disclosure of secret surveillance undertaken by the United States and said he has no regrets because “it was the right thing to do.” The woman at right was not identified.
The Associated Press
BERLIN - Acknowledging that he's trapped in a Moscow airport, Edward Snowden asked Russia on Friday to grant him temporary asylum, promising, apparently, that he was finished leaking information about U.S. government programs.
In a meeting with human rights activists at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport, a partial video and transcript of which were released later, Snowden said he had no regrets about leaking classified documents that revealed secret U.S. government programs to gather information on hundreds of millions of Americans' cellphone and Internet accounts.
"A little over one month ago, I had family, a home in paradise, and I lived in great comfort," he said, reading a statement. "I also had the capability without any warrant to search for, seize and read your communications. Anyone's communications at any time. That is the power to change people's fates.
"Accordingly, I did what I believed right and began a campaign to correct this wrongdoing," he said. "That moral decision to tell the public about spying that affects all of us has been costly, but it was the right thing to do and I have no regrets."
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said previously that his country would grant Snowden asylum only if he agreed to stop doing harm to the United States, and some of those in attendance said Snowden had indicated he was willing to accept that condition.
Genri Reznik, a prominent Russian lawyer who attended the meeting, said Snowden "promised that he would not act to harm the United States," and a Russian legislator who was also there, Vyacheslav Nikonov, offered a similar assessment.
"He said he was informed of this condition and that he can easily accept it. He does not intend to damage the United States' interests, given that he is a patriot of his country," Nikonov said.
But whether that would stop stories about the U.S. programs was uncertain. Glenn Greenwald, a journalist for The Guardian newspaper, has promised more revelations based on hundreds of documents Snowden already has given him, and Julian Assange, the editor of the WikiLeaks website, whose organization is advising Snowden, told ABC News two weeks ago that steps had been taken to make certain Snowden couldn't be pressured to stop what Assange called "the publication process."
Neither Greenwald nor Assange responded to requests for comment.
President Obama urged Putin in a phone call later Friday to expel Snowden to a country where he could be extradited to the United States, and it was clear that the United States planned no letup in its efforts to see Snowden returned to the country.
According to an account of the meeting published on WikiLeaks' website, the U.S. ambassador to Russia phoned a representative of the advocacy group Human Rights Watch as the representative was on her way to the airport meeting and told her to pass along the message that "the U.S. government does not categorize Mr. Snowden as a whistle-blower and that he has broken United States law."
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney took a similar line, noting that Snowden had been charged with three felonies for leaking classified documents. He called those "very serious crimes" and added that "every aspect of the United States' system of justice is available to him upon his return to the U.S. to face those charges."
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