National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden has secured permanent residency rights in Russia, where he has lived with asylum protections since leaking classified materials on U.S. government mass surveillance in 2013, his lawyer revealed Thursday.
Snowden's Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena shared the development with Russia's state TASS news agency and in a post on Facebook, noting that the 37-year-old former contractor "calls his ultimate goal to return to the United States, but only if he is guaranteed a fair trial."
After leaking classified information about U.S. spying to journalists in 2013, the whistleblower—who currently serves as board president of the U.S.-based Freedom of the Press Foundation—was charged with theft of government property and violating the Espionage Act.
Kucherena told reporters at Interfax and Reuters that Snowden's Russian residency permit was expiring so he submitted an application to extend it in April, and the process took longer than usual due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The Russian government's decision to grant Snowden indefinite permanent residency—a step toward citizenship in the country, if he wants it—comes a few weeks after a U.S. federal court ruled that he has to pay over $5 million in book royalties and speaking fees related to his 2019 memoir.
In a lawsuit filed last year seeking his profits from the book, entitled Permanent Record, the Justice Department claimed that Snowden had violated nondisclosure agreements he signed while working for the NSA and CIA by not submitting it for a pre-publication review.
CNN badly misreported this.
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A) This is not a settlement; I didn't agree to it.
B) The judgement from this censorship case is not enforceable while I am in exile, but I've never had that much money anyway.
Better headline: "US could gain up to $5m by pardoning Edward Snowden." https://t.co/8jp6IZnOKC
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) September 22, 2020
As Common Dreams reported in August, President Donald Trump—who had previously charged that Snowden should be executed—teased the possibility of pardoning the whistleblower. Freedom of the Press Foundation responded by saying that "no matter your feelings on Trump, a Snowden pardon would be a major win for those who care about fighting back against mass surveillance in the digital age."
Trump currently faces a tight reelection battle against Democratic nominee Joe Biden. In a televised interview on MSNBC last year, Snowden said that Biden—who served as vice president under former President Barack Obama, whose DOJ initially brought charges against the ex-contractor—had warned other countries' governments that there would be "consequences" if they granted him asylum.