USA Foreign Policy First Look

Russia contemplates returning Snowden as 'gift' to Trump

According to information gathered by US intelligence, Russia is considering returning Edward Snowden as a 'gift' to President Trump.

Edward Snowden speaks via video link during a conference at University of Buenos Aires Law School, Argentina in November 2016.
Marcos Brindicci/Reuters/File | Caption

A senior United States intelligence official recently analyzed a series of sensitive reports that show Russian officials contemplating extraditing Edward Snowden to the United States, according to NBC.

Mr. Snowden has been living in Russia since 2013 when he left his job as a subcontractor for the National Security Agency in Hawaii, taking with him files and documents demonstrating the full extent of United States surveillance programs being conducted in the name of national security.

According the intelligence official, Russia’s deliberations on the subject revolve around the concept of returning Snowden to the United States as a sort of “gift” to President Trump, who publicly called Snowden a traitor and expressed his belief that Snowden should be executed.

For his part, Snowden has consistently maintained that all of his disclosures were done in the interest of the United States, saying that his unwavering belief that certain surveillance tactics were unconstitutional.

Addressing the possibility that Russia would return him to the United States, Snowden took to Twitter to express his belief that the possibility of such a return validates his contentions that he never worked as a spy for Russia while seeking asylum in their country.

"Finally: irrefutable evidence that I never cooperated with Russian intel," Snowden said. "No country trades away spies, as the rest would fear they're next." 

Not everyone agrees. Boston University professor and former CIA officer, Joseph Wippl told the Boston Herald that “It’s up in the air whether Snowden was an agent of Russia’s before he got to Russia. Certainly, he’s become one there.”

Meanwhile, Russian authorities maintain that no such conversation took place, alleging that the rumor was concocted by media sources.

"Those are not statements from intelligence services, but information of the NBC and CNN television channels, referring to unnamed sources at intelligence services,” wrote Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova on her Facebook page.

“Quite a useful technology to stir up the public opinion and to support the tension,” Ms. Zakharova continued, translated by Russia Beyond the Headlines.

Mr. Snowden has been a polarizing figure since 2013, when he took the files from his NSA job in Hawaii and fled the country, initially to Hong Kong. The files show the far-reaching extent to which the United States was spying both on its own citizens as well as on those in other countries, reports The Guardian one of the newspapers to which Mr. Snowden initially gave many of the documents.

Despite the official backlash against Mr. Snowden, some of his revelations have led to concessions by the White House that the NSA may have to operate under certain new constraints. One such piece of information which angered the international community was the revelation that the NSA was listening to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s private phone conversations.

In January, the Russian government extended Mr. Snowden’s asylum until 2020. Following the recent extradition allegations, Mr. Snowden’s Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena told Russian state-owned news agency TASS that Russia does not sell people. “The Snowden issue cannot be a bargaining chip on any level, neither political nor economic,” NBC quoted TASS. 

Mr. Snowden, who faces charges in the United States that carry a minimum of 30 years in prison, said in a December interview on Twitter, "a lot of people have asked me: Is there going to be some kind of deal where Trump says, 'Hey look, give this guy to me as some kind of present'? Will I be sent back to the U.S., where I'll be facing a show trial?”

He continued, “is this going to happen? I don't know. Could it happen? Sure. Am I worried about it? Not really, because here's the thing: I am very comfortable with the decisions that I've made. I know I did the right thing.”

Meanwhile, a recent petition to pardon Edward Snowden was recently delivered to the White House with more than 1 million signatures.