President Barack Obama comments on former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who is reportedly still inside a Moscow airport without a valid passport. Obama made the remarks Monday in Tanzania.
Professed NSA leaker Edward Snowden has applied for political asylum in Russia, but President Vladimir Putin says he can stay only if he stops “damaging our American partners.” Only hours later, Snowden released a statement railing against the U.S. government.
Russia was one of about 20 countries that the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, which has been assisting Snowden in exile, said it had approached for asylum on Snowden’s behalf. Others included China, Cuba, France, Germany, Italy, India, Nicaragua and Spain.
Putin told reporters that Russia won’t hand Snowden over to U.S. authorities, but he said there would be strings attached if he wants to remain in Moscow.
“If he likes to stay here, there is one condition: He should cease his work aimed at damaging our American partners. No matter how strange it will sound from me,” Putin told reporters, adding that Snowden isn’t working for Russian intelligence.
He said he doubted Snowden would curtail his activities and suggested that the former National Security Agency contractor should figure out which country he wants to wind up in and “move there.”
Snowden left the U.S. for Hong Kong before he allegedly leaked top-secret details of U.S. surveillance programs and was charged with espionage. With the help of WikiLeaks, he traveled to Moscow eight days ago.
The U.S. does not have an extradition treaty with Russia, but President Barack Obama noted that Snowden traveled to Moscow without legal papers and referred to “high-level” discussions between the two countries about the case.
“We are hopeful that the Russian government makes decisions based on the normal procedures regarding international travel and the normal interactions that law enforcement have,” Obama said.
It was thought that Snowden would eventually head for Ecuador, but the president of the South American country said this week that no asylum request was sent and suggested Russia would make the call on when Snowden could leave and where he would go.
And in a statement released late Monday through WikiLeaks, Snowden claimed the White House is pressuring other countries to deny him asylum.
“The Obama administration has now adopted the strategy of using citizenship as a weapon,” his statement 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.
“Although I am convicted of nothing, it has unilaterally revoked my passport, leaving me a stateless person. Without any judicial order, the administration now seeks to stop me exercising a basic right. A right that belongs to everybody. The right to seek asylum.”
While Snowden remains in legal limbo, new claims about U.S. surveillance based on his purported leaks continue to emerge.
Obama addressed reports that the NSA has bugged America’s European allies with something of a shrug, saying it should not be a surprise that intelligence agencies seek “additional insight beyond what’s available through open sources.”
“If that weren’t the case, then there’d be no use for an intelligence service,” Obama told reporters while traveling in Africa.
“And I guarantee you that in European capitals there are people who are interested in, if not what I had for breakfast, at least what my talking points might be should I end up meeting with their leaders,” he added.
“That’s how intelligence services operate.”
He said his team would look into the allegations and report back to European Union allies, who have expressed concern and, in some cases, outrage.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who is traveling in Brunei, echoed Obama’s statement.
“I will say that every country in the world that is engaged in international affairs of national security undertakes lots of activities to protect its national security, and all kinds of information contributes to that, and all I know is that that is not unusual for lots of nations,” he said.
“But beyond that, I’m not going to comment any further until I have all of the facts and find out precisely what the situation is.”
This story was originally published on Mon Jul 1, 2013 6:27 PM EDT