Maybe Edward Snowden has a soft spot for Russia after all.
The former CIA employee—who blew the lid off two of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs—is seeking temporary asylum in the country, where he has been holed up in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport since June 23.
The 30-year-old American, charged with espionage, made his intentions clear during a meeting at the airport on Friday with human rights groups. It was the first time the public has seen the NSA leaker since he arrived in Russia last month.
“I ask for your assistance in requesting guarantees of safe passage from the relevant nations in securing my travel to Latin America, as well as requesting asylum in Russia until such time as these states accede to law and my legal travel is permitted. I will be submitting my request to Russia today, and hope it will be accepted favorably,” said Snowden.
Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch told NBC News of Snowden’s plans and that he eventually hopes to go to Latin America. She described Snowden’s condition as “just fine.”
Earlier this month, Snowden applied for asylum in more than 20 nations. At the time he said he was dropping his petition with Russia altogether after authorities there said he must stop releasing information about America’s surveillance programs.
Nicaragua, Bolivia and Venezuela have offered Snowden asylum, but he’d have to get there first.
Russian lawyer Genri Reznik told reporters that Snowden’s claim should be satisfied. “The law allows for political asylum,” said Reznik.
Of course, there’s no guarantee. Russia had initially said it hoped Snowden would leave the airport as soon as possible and granting him asylum would certainly reignite tensions between the two world powers.
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin told local news agencies that Russia has not officially received a new bid from Snowden but that Putin would continue to insist that he stop leaking classified information.
“It’s very difficult for an American citizen to hide from the criminal justice system,” Robert Anello, a New York lawyer who deals with extradition cases, told msnbc.com. “He’s going to find it increasingly difficult to find a sanctuary. I don’t know if Russia has changed it’s tune but I doubt it has or would be willing to risk its relationship with the United States or quite frankly the rule of the law.”
Since the June leak, showing the NSA was obtaining millions of Americans’ phone records and another program that allows the government to gather information about the online activities of foreigners abroad, the U.S. government has revoked Snowden’s passport and is trying to extradite him back to the U.S.
Human Rights Watch released a statement following the meeting urging countries to treat Snowden’s asylum claim fairly. “He should be allowed at least to make that claim and have it heard,” said Lokshina.
Meanwhile, White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Friday that President Obama has plans to speak to Putin. Carney did not go into detail about what Obama would say, but noted “We have a history of effective law enforcement cooperation with Russia. Through those channels and through the normal procedures, we believe Mr. Snowden ought to be expelled from Russia.”
Carney also said providing a “propaganda platform” for Snowden “runs counter to the Russian government’s previous declarations of Russia’s neutrality and that they have no control over his presence at the airport.”