Whistleblower Edward Snowden has seized on a report that Russia is considering sending him back to the US as a gift to Donald Trump, saying that the story vindicates him of charges that he is a spy.
Snowden was responding to a report by NBC which stated that US intelligence had collected information that Russia wanted to hand Snowden over in order to curry favor with Trump, who has said that the former NSA contractor is a traitor and a spy who deserves to be executed.
The report based on two sources in the intelligence community said the intelligence had been gathered since Trump’s inauguration. The Guardian was unable to independently verify the report.
Snowden’s ACLU lawyer, Ben Wizner, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. However, he told NBC News he was unaware of any plan to return his client to the US.
Team Snowden has received no such signals and has no new reason for concern, Wizner said.
Russia granted Snowden asylum in 2013 and a three-year residency in 2014. Snowden has been living in exile in Moscow, facing charges in the US including violations of the US Espionage Act for leaking documents about secret mass surveillance programs.
Speaking at a GOP candidate debate in March 2016, Trump said of Snowden: I said he was a spy and we should get him back. And if Russia respected our country, they would have sent him back immediately, but he was a spy. It didn’t take me a long time to figure that one out.
The Kremlin publicly dismissed these claims.
Snowden offered a longer explanation of his feelings of vindication when he was interviewed by Katie Couric in December 2016, when rumours of a Russian handover first started circulating.
He described the suggestion as vindication that he was independent. He added: The fact that I’ve always worked on behalf of the United States and the fact that Russia doesn’t own me. In fact the Russian government may see me as a sort of liability.
Snowden suggested that a reason why Russia might want to return him was his recent criticism of the Kremlin’s human rights record and his suggestions that its officials had hacked US security networks.
Previously Snowden has said that Moscow had gone very far, in ways that are completely unnecessary, costly and corrosive to individual and collective rights in monitoring citizens online.
When Couric asked if Snowden would mind being extradited, he replied: That would obviously be something that would be a threat to my liberty and to my life.
But what I’m saying here is you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say this guy’s a bad guy a Russian tool or something like that at the same time you say he’s going to be traded away.
After reiterating his sense of vindication on Friday, Snowden posted again to Twitter: Speak not because it is safe, but because it is right.