WikiLeaks' Julian Assange urged Monday night that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden request asylum in a South American country. While Snowden's precise whereabouts are currently unknown, it is believed he remains in Hong Kong, where long-term extradition protection from the U.S. in tenuous. Meanwhile, Russia has stepped forward as a surprise possible option for the whistleblower who is likely to face prosecution under the Espionage Act should he set foot on U.S. soil.
While Snowden is not known to have made any asylum requests, a spokesperson for Vladmir Putin came forward to say the Kremlin would consider such a request. It's a transparent jab at the U.S., given that Russia itself is well-known to have a governmental surveillance apparatus on par with the American system against which Snowden has spoken out.
Via The Guardian:
Speaking to the Russian newspaper Kommersant, Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin's spokesman, said: "If such an appeal is given, it will be considered. We'll act according to facts."
Peskov's comments were widely carried by the Russian media, which have largely ignored Snowden's revelations that the National Security Agency (NSA) was secretly empowered with wide-reaching authority to collect information from the U.S. mobile provider Verizon and to snoop on emails and internet communications via a data-mining programme called Prism. Russia's feared security services are widely believed to maintain similar powers.
Peskov's comments on potential asylum opened the floodgates on support for Snowden. Robert Shlegel, an influential MP with the ruling United Russia party, said: "That would be a good idea."
Alexey Pushkov, head of the Duma's international affairs committee and a vocal U.S. critic, said on Twitter: "By promising asylum to Snowden, Moscow has taken upon itself the protection of those persecuted for political reasons. There will be hysterics in the US. They only recognise this right for themselves."
Whether Snowden would be interested in seeking asylum in Russia is another question entirely. He has stated that his "predisposition is to seek asylum in a country with shared values" and Russia's record with its own whistleblowers is dark. As the Guardian noted, "Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who revealed a multimillion-dollar corruption scheme involving officials from the interior ministry and tax police, was arrested and later died in jail after being refused medical attention. His body also showed signs of torture. Alexey Navalny, a prominent anti-corruption activist, is currently on trial on charges widely believed to be politically motivated.: