The father of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who's been stranded in Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport for almost seven weeks with no end in sight, has given an emotionally charged interview to the state-run Russia-24 news channel. He thanked the Russian people and President Vladimir Putin personally for "keeping his son safe."
He also told Russians that he may soon come to Moscow to visit with his son.
Lonnie Snowden, a former officer of the United States Coast Guard, told Russian audiences early Wednesday morning – through a translator – that his son would be better off remaining in Russia because he probably can't get a fair trial in the US. Mr. Snowden also said he was sitting on an FBI invitation to visit Russia and talk with his son, but would not go until he was sure about the FBI's intentions.
"If I were in his place, I would stay in Russia, and I hope that Russia will accept him," he said, according to a text summary of the interview on the Russian station's website.
"I hope that he will return home and appear in court, and we will have an open dialogue about that. But given what's happened over the past [few] weeks, I have no grounds to expect that a court would be fair. We cannot guarantee a fair trial," he said.
Told by the Russian interviewer that his son might be watching, from his perch somewhere in Sheremetyevo's vast transit zone, Snowden said "Edward, I hope you are watching. Your family is well. We love you. We hope you are healthy, we hope you are well, I hope to see you soon, but most of all I want you to be safe. I want you to find a safe haven."
In remarks directed to the Russian audience, Snowden said "I also would like to thank President Vladimir Putin and the Russian government for what I believe to be their courage and strength and conviction to keep my son safe."
The elder Snowden's views have evolved somewhat as his son's intercontinental saga has progressed. In interviews with US TV stations in mid-June, shortly after Edward revealed himself as the source of the stunning revelations of NSA secrets published in The Guardian and The Washington Post, he seemed unsure how to judge his son's actions.
In a June 17 interview, he urged his son to stop leaking information to the media. "I hope, I pray and I ask that you will not release any secrets that could constitute treason," Snowden said, addressing his son.
"I sense that you're under much stress from what I've read recently, and ask that you not succumb to that stress ... and make a bad decision." he added.
"I think WikiLeaks, if you've looked at past history, you know, their focus isn't necessarily the Constitution of the United States. It's simply to release as much information as possible," the elder Snowden said at the time.
But in an interview with NBC's Today program last Friday, Snowden said he was thankful to WikiLeaks and "everybody else who is helping my son." He went on to blast the US government and Congress allowing "unconstitutional surveillance programs," and otherwise fully take his son's side in the widening controversy.
"I am extremely disappointed and angry. I am an angry American citizen. The American people – at this point, they don't know the full truth, but the truth is coming," he said.
As to visiting Russia on the FBI's request, the elder Snowden told the Russian TV station that he hasn't declined the offer and intends to visit Russia "when it is appropriate."
"I will not discuss this matter with the FBI. Currently I am a US citizen, the father of Edward Snowden and I will not apologize [for what he did]. I love my son, I'm proud of my son and I think that if we go to Russia, we will do so on legitimate grounds," he said.
Edward Snowden's Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, told a Russian radio station Wednesday that he was actively organizing a visit to Russia by the ex-CIA employee's father.
"I will do my best to get this done today," Mr. Kucherena said.