Former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden may about to be stepping back into the limelight, after remaining incognito somewhere in Russia in the two-and-a-half-months since he walked out of a Moscow airport with a Russian visa granting him a year's political asylum.
A flurry of recent events suggest as much.
On Monday a Russian Internet tabloid, Lifenews.ru, published a photograph of a lean, lightly-bearded and ginger-haired young man with a bag-laden shopping cart. The paper which reputedly enjoys close connections with Russian security services says the photo was taken in early autumn and is the first known picture of Mr. Snowden since he began his new life in Russia.
In an accompanying interview, Snowden's Kremlin-linked lawyer and gatekeeper, Anatoly Kucherena, confirms that the picture is of his client but insists it was probably "not taken in Moscow."
Today, Snowden's father Lon arrived in Moscow for a two-week visit, and told Russian media that he hopes to meet with his son very soon. The elder Snowden's host, Mr. Kucherena, later told Russian state TV that his client's whereabouts must remain unknown for the time being due to safety considerations.
"There were four to five cars chasing us [as we left the airport]. We don’t really know who they were. I understand that there is great interest, but I’d like to stress that there is the issue of Edward’s safety here. So even though everyone wants to know where the father will meet the son, his safety is paramount for us," Kucherena said.
Speaking to journalists at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, Snowden's father insisted that his son is a "whistleblower" who is "not leaking information."
"I have no idea what his intentions are, but ever since he has been in Russia, my understanding is that he has simply been trying to remain healthy and safe and he has nothing to do with future stories," the elder Snowden said.
"I am not sure my son will be returning to the US again. That's his decision, he is an adult, he is a person who is responsible for his own agency. I am his father, I love my son, and I certainly hope I will have an opportunity to see my son," he added, with Kucherena standing beside him.
Earlier this week, a delegation of four former US national-security-personnel-turned-whistleblowers arrived in Moscow to present Edward Snowden with a whistleblower award called the Sam Adams Award. The prize is named after a Vietnam-era CIA agent who, according to a biographical review on the CIA's official website, "in his 10-year career as a CIA analyst caused more trouble than any analyst before or since."
The group, which included former NSA executive Thomas Drake, ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern, and former US Department of Justice ethics adviser Jesselyn Radack, reportedly met with Snowden at an undisclosed location on Wednesday and gave him the prize – a candlestick holder to "symbolize bringing light to dark corners." Also in the group was former FBI agent Coleen Rowley, known for criticizing the FBI for its pre-9/11 investigations.
As an NSA contractor, Snowden copied classified details of several top-secret US and British surveillance programs, which he then leaked to European and American newspaper. US prosecutors in June charged him with espionage, and he later sought asylum in Russia.
Interviewed on the Kremlin-funded English-language television network RT Thursday, the four whistleblowers agreed that Snowden looked "remarkably well" and was in fine spirits "considering the pressures" of his situation.
"This is an extraordinary person. He's made his peace with what he did, he's convinced that what he did was right, he has no regrets and is willing to face whatever the future holds for him," Mr. McGovern told RT.
Snowden's lawyer, Kucherena, has told Russian media that his client "has a girlfriend," is making great progress in learning the Russian language, and may soon find a job to keep him occupied in Russia.
Reached by telephone on Thursday by the Monitor, Kucherena offered nothing but a good-natured scolding.
"You must admit that when American politicians demand that human rights should be observed and talk about democratic freedoms, it's a sheer contradiction when we see the fact that everybody is bugged and their emails are read," he said.
"For a person like Snowden, who grew up believing in those declared American values, it is difficult to remain aloof and pay no attention to the real state of affairs," he added. "Edward did something that we haven't yet properly analyzed, and it's important that we think this through. Yes, I know there should be the struggle against terrorism, but must ordinary people sacrifice their rights and privacy for this?"