Fugitive classified document leaker Edward Snowden, holed up at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport since June 23, today accused the U.S. government of using "historically disproportionate aggression" to get him back to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act of 1917.
In a statement released from Moscow on Friday afternoon, Snowden expressed no remorse for leaking classified documents describing U.S. surveillance activities to reporters.
Instead, he insisted that his actions were motivated purely to inform the public of what he called illegal "systems of massive, pervasive surveillance."
"I did not seek to enrich myself. I did not seek to sell US secrets. I did not partner with any foreign government to guarantee my safety. Instead, I took what I knew to the public, so what affects all of us can be discussed by all of us in the light of day, and I asked the world for justice," Snowden said.
In the statement, Snowden claimed that since details of the surveillance programs were disclosed, the U.S. government and intelligence services have sought to make an example of him in an effort to deter others from leaking similar documents.
"The moral decision to tell the public about spying that affects all of us has been costly, but it was the right thing to do and I have no regrets," Snowden said.
The statement was released as Snowden met at the airport with representatives of 13 human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Transparency International and Human Rights Watch. At the meeting, Snowden also announced plans to seek temporary asylum in Russia for time to find a way to get to a place that has offered permanent asylum.
The Venezuelan government has already granted him asylum and other Latin American countries, including Bolivia, have expressed a willingness to do so.
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin told USA Today in a story posted this afternoon that Russia has not yet received a formal asylum request from Snowden.
The former contract worker for the National Security Agency applied for asylum in Russia a couple of weeks ago, but almost immediately withdrew the request after Putin announced that Snowden could stay in the country only if he not disclose more classified information about U.S. surveillance activities.
Peskov in today's USA Today story noted that Putin would maintain that condition if Snowden formally seeks temporary asylum.
White House spokesman Jay Carney this afternoon urged that the Russian government not provide a "propaganda platform" for Snowden, according to reports.
"I would simply say that providing a propaganda platform for Mr. Snowden runs counter to the Russian government's previous declarations of Russia's neutrality, and that they have no control over their presence in the airport," Carney said, according to a report in Russian newspaper Russia Today.
Snowden has been on the run since leaking documents revealing classified U.S. surveillance programs to The Guardian and Washington Post early last month. His revelations stirred up a frenzy of concern among privacy advocates around the world along with a high-degree of indignation from the U.S. government officials that have called him a traitor.
Snowden initially fled to Hong Kong before moving on Moscow using a special travel document provided by the Ecuadorean government. The U.S. had revoked his passport.
The U.S. government has accused Russia and China of declining to honor its request to extradite Snowden.
Russia has flatly refused to send him back to the U.S. while the Chinese and Hong Kong governments contend that the U.S. didn't make a proper request.
The Snowden revelations have also soured U.S. relations with several European Union and Latin American nations and countries.
Meanwhile, Snowden has spent the past several weeks in the transit area of Sheremetyevo airport, from where he has applied to nearly two dozen countries for asylum. Several countries denied the requests, while others said they would be considered only if Snowden filed it in person from within their borders.
Snowden today thanked Venezuela for granting him political asylum and expressed his appreciation to other governments that had extended similar offers.
"No state has a basis by which to limit or interfere with my right to enjoy that asylum," Snowden said. He pointed to a recent incident in which a La Paz-bound plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales was forced to land in Austria on suspicion that Snowden was on board.
"This unlawful threat makes it impossible for me to travel to Latin America and enjoy the asylum granted there in accordance with our shared rights," Snowden said in the statement.
The American Civil Liberties Union Friday chided the U.S. government for interfering with Snowden's right to seek asylum. "Ironically, U.S. actions (including whatever role the United States played in the incident involving President Morales' plane) have arguably strengthened Mr. Snowden's claims for asylum based on political persecution" the civil rights group said in a statement.
Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan, or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His email address is [email protected].
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