Former National Security Agency contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden has been granted permanent Russian residency, according to his lawyer. The controversial figure has been staying in the country since 2013 when he fled the US after leaking classified documents detailing government surveillance programs.
“Today, Snowden was handed a residency permit for an unlimited period of time,” his Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena told Russia’s state Tass news agency. Kucherena also told the news agency that Snowden’s application was submitted in April but it took immigration authorities extra time to authorize because of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown restrictions across Russia.
Snowden and his lawyer were this year able to obtain the right to permanent Russian residency because of changes made to Russia’s immigration laws in 2019. Kucherena said that Snowden will not apply for Russian citizenship in the foreseeable future.
“So for those people, first off, who have no idea who the hell I am, I’m the guy who was behind the revelations of global mass surveillance in 2013. I worked for the CIA. I worked for the NSA as a contractor at the NSA, staff officer at the CIA. I was undercover working at embassies,” Snowden said on the Joe Rogan podcast last year.
“I talk about the difference between this and a book and contractor and government official and how it’s all sort of lost its meaning, but I saw something wrong, and I saw basically the government was violating the law and what I believe to be the Constitution of the United States and, more broadly, human rights for everyone in the United States and around the world.
“There were domestic surveillance programs. There were mass surveillance programs that worked internationally. Basically, everything that they could monitor, they were monitoring,” Snowden continued.
“This is actually like, people go, “Well, isn’t that obvious? Isn’t that what they’re supposed to do?” This is weird, but the answer actually is no. Under the framework of our constitution, the government is only supposed to be monitoring people that it has an individualized, particularized suspicion of wrongdoing. We think about this in the investigative means, right?”
During his time in Russia, Snowden has kept a relatively low profile but has occasionally taken to social media to criticize Russian government policies. The 37-year-old has previously said he is willing to return to the US if he can be sure of a fair trial.
“All those TV shows where they go and get a warrant, the reason they have to do that, like we fought a revolution over this a couple of hundred years back, is the idea that, when we had kings, when we had governments with absolute power, they could simply go in your home and go, “Is this guy a pot smoker?”, get his diary, whatever it is and, if you find evidence of a crime, you march him off to prison and it’s all good. You found evidence they’re a criminal or you didn’t find evidence. Well, no harm, no foul. You’re just doing what government does,” Snowden said on the revealing podcast last year.
After Snowden left the US in 2013, Russia granted his asylum when few other countries were willing to. Snowden’s decision to leak secret documents revealed vast domestic and international surveillance operations carried out by the U.S. National Security Agency where he was a contractor and shook the world with the revelations.
“This lawyer, David Addington, wrote a secret legal interpretation that no one else was allowed to see. It was kept in the Vice President’s safe at the White House,” Snowden continued last year. “When they talked to the heads of the agency at the NSA and the CIA and the FBI and all this stuff, they told them, the White House and the Office of Legal Counsel and the president’s attorneys. All of these guys had decided this would be legal to do, but we can’t tell you why, we can’t show you the legal authorization for it. You just got to take our word for it, so they did this.”
For years, US authorities have demanded that Snowden return to the US to face a criminal trial for the espionage charges brought in 2013. However, President Trump has recently said he is considering pardoning the whistleblower.
“This became a mass surveillance program called Stellar Wind, which they said was supposed to monitor the phone calls and internet communications, emails and things like that of everybody in the United States and around the world who they could get access to for links to Al-Qaeda because, if you remember in the wake of the September 11th attacks, they were saying, “We thought there could be sleeper cells of Al-Qaeda.” They were just peppered all throughout the country, and they were going to spring up at any moment. Of course, like weapons of mass destruction, it just didn’t exist. It was all a power grab.”