Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency whistleblower, has officially submitted an application for temporary asylum in Russia so he may eventually travel to a country in Latin America.
CBS News reports that he submitted an “asylum request to an official from Russia’s Federal Migration Service at the airport where he has been holed-up for weeks. The Migration Service later confirmed that it had received the 20-page application.” It is going to be processed within the “statutory period,” which can take the Service “three months.”
“That period can be doubled if the agency feels more time is necessary to weigh the merits of his request. If asylum is granted, it would permit Snowden to live and work in Russia for up to one year, and could then be renewed,” CBS News further reported.
Issuing documentation, according to Svetlana Berdnikova of CBS News, would make it possible for the Russian government to issue Snowden “temporary documentation to allow him to move freely around Russia once the application is processed by the Migration Service.”
Yesterday, it was reported that Russian President Vladmir Putin had said, when speaking to a meeting of student researchers at an archaeological camp, the United States was responsible for trapping Snowden on Russian territory. He said Snowden “arrived on our territory without an invitation,”
“He didn’t fly to us; he flew in transit to other countries. But only when it became known that he was in the air, our American partners, in fact, blocked him from flying further,” Putin added. “They themselves scared all other countries; no one wants to take him, and in this way they themselves in fact blocked him on our territory. Such a present for us for Christmas.”
Putin continues to maintain that Snowden should stop “harming” Russia’s “American partners” by releasing classified information. He believes Snowden is starting to understand the conditions for asylum—that he cannot engage in activity that would “harm” the US if he is given temporary asylum.
On Friday, Snowden met with representatives of human rights groups and announced that he was formally accepting all offers from Latin American countries, including Venezuela. The State Department and White House accused Russia of giving Snowden a “propaganda platform.”
The Associated Press‘ Matthew Lee directly challenged this during a State Department press briefing:
LEE: — with Mr. Snowden? I’m wondering if, since he has now asked the Russians for asylum, there has been any contact between this building and the Russians about your feelings about his status.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I can tell you – I hadn’t seen – or I don’t have independent confirmation, I guess I should say, about any request he’s made. I can tell you that we have been in touch, of course, with Russian officials. Our Embassy in Moscow has been in direct contact on the ground. We are disappointed that Russian officials and agencies facilitated this meeting today by allowing these activists and representatives into the Moscow airport’s transit zone to meet with Mr. Snowden despite the government’s declarations of Russia’s neutrality with respect to Mr. Snowden.
LEE: So I’m sorry. You’re disappointed that they let someone into their own airport?
MS. PSAKI: Well –
LEE: I don’t get it.
MS. PSAKI: Well, that they facilitated this event, of course.
LEE: Well, why?
MS. PSAKI: Because this gave a forum for –
LEE: You don’t think that he should have a forum? Has he – he’s forfeited his right to freedom of speech as well?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, Mr. Snowden –
LEE: All right.
MS. PSAKI: — as we’ve talked about – let me just state this –
MS. PSAKI: — because I think it’s important. He’s not a whistleblower. He’s not a human rights activist. He’s wanted in a series of serious criminal charges brought in the eastern district of Virginia and the United States.
LEE: Okay. I’m sorry. But I didn’t realize people who were wanted on charges forfeited their right to speech – to free speech. I also didn’t realize that people who were not whistleblowers or not human rights activists, as you say he is not, that they forfeited their rights to speak, so I don’t understand why you’re disappointed with the Russians, but neither that – leave that aside for a second… [emphasis added]
Later in the back-and-forth that Lee had with the spokesperson:
LEE: Well, is the United States Government now in the business of trying to discourage people or governments from facilitating people having – meeting with human rights activists? I don’t get it.
MS. PSAKI: Matt, this is not a universal position of the United States. This is an individual —
LEE: So it’s just in this one case.
MS. PSAKI: — who has been accused of three – of felony charges.
LEE: But surely – Jen —
MS. PSAKI: This is not a unique —
LEE: Okay. He’s been accused. Do you remember the old line that we’re supposed to all know – he has not been convicted of anything yet.
MS. PSAKI: And he can return to the United States and face the charges.
LEE: But he can also surely – people who are accused of crimes are allowed their right of free speech, are they not?
MS. PSAKI: Matt, I think we’ve gone the round on this.
LEE: No, I mean, it’s a legitimate question. I mean, you talk about even in Russia that journalists have been persecuted and political activists have been persecuted and you call for free speech around the world. But you’re not saying that Mr. Snowden has the right of free speech?
MS. PSAKI: That’s not at all what I was saying. We believe, of course, broadly in free speech. Our concern here was that this was – there was obvious facilitation by the Russians in this case. We’ve conveyed that. We’ve conveyed our concerns. I’m saying them publicly.
LEE: So you’re upset – you’re not upset about the press conference; you’re upset that the Russians facilitated it.
MS. PSAKI: We certainly are upset that there was a platform for an individual who’s been accused of felony crimes.
It is clear propaganda being put out by the administration of President Barack Obama—the idea that the Russian government may have facilitated the meeting with human rights representatives. Every step of the way the Obama administration has sought to undermine the asylum process by preemptively contacting any country in the world it thinks may be considering granting Snowden asylum. However, it plays off a message that both US government officials and members of the US news media have promoted, which is that he might in some way be cooperating or working for Russian intelligence services as a spy.
Multiple outlets have been publishing what can best be referred to as yellow journalism. They have put out stories with no proof or facts that Snowden has cooperated or engaged in acts on behalf of Russia or that the security of files he has on his computers may have been compromised yet purely sensational coverage of Snowden.
TIME ran a story on July 10 about what the Russian authorities might be doing with the NSA whistleblower that quoted “former Russian security officials and spies.” Simon Shuster for TIME wrote on June 25, “For Russia’s spy agencies, the arrival of Edward Snowden in Moscow on Sunday would have presented a great temptation, like a king salmon jumping into the lap of a grizzly bear.” Carol Williams for the Los Angeles Times wrote on June 26, “Now that Russian intelligence services have presumably gotten what they want from Edward Snowden—his treasure trove of US intelligence data and the chance to embarrass the Obama administration—they are showing the National Security Agency leaker to the door.”
On June 25, CNN’s “The Situation Room” with Wolf Blitzer was a special edition of coverage of Snowden, with multiple segments teeming with one hundred percent speculation and national security state talking points. The show interviewed “former spies” on how the Russians were “trying to get their hands” on “intelligence” Snowden had. The show also asked how the Russian might “try to extract the information they need.”
Former CIA operative Bob Baer asserted, “The Russians are aggressive and there’s no doubt in my mind they would not let this opportunity pass over.” A former KGB officer Oleg Kalugin, who “supervised a ring of notorious British Cold War operatives who spied for the Soviets, was asked by CNN’s Brian Todd, “How would they approach him? What would be their style? Would they flatter him?”
“Yes, they would probably say something nice about how nice that Americans understand the value of improving relations and better knowledge of each other,” Kalugin answered. (The segment also assumed that China had obtained copies of US intelligence data as well, even though there is no proof this happened.)
The Obama administration wants the world, especially the American public, to see Snowden as a defector and not a whistleblower. They want him to be regarded as someone who betrayed his country and is not an honorable truth-teller. Unfortunately, if one looks at a recent Quinnipiac poll of American voters, the propaganda against Snowden is not working to the degree the Obama administration had hoped because the content of Snowden’s disclosures on the NSA have been incredibly alarming to many Americans, who still believe they should enjoy a right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution.
Moreover, the message from the Obama administration is clear: it is acceptable for the press and members of Congress to give a platform to officials like Director of National Intelligence Director James Clapper, who lied, or NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander, who is a word-parsing master. Any number of government officials can make remarks anonymously on Snowden to the press. But, it is not acceptable for any press or human rights groups to give a “platform” to Snowden to speak about the US government’s mass surveillance programs and how he is being pursued.