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Russia Grants Snowden Asylum, Which U.S. Dubs an ‘Extreme Disappointment’

August 1, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
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JEFFREY BROWN: The drama over disclosures of U.S. surveillance programs took a major new turn today in Russia. The man at the center of the story was allowed to go free for the first time since arriving there in June.

Edward Snowden’s lawyer confirmed the news to reporters today at the Moscow airport.

ANATOLY KUCHERENA, attorney for Edward Snowden (through interpreter): Yes, I have arrived in the airport so that a member of the immigration service could give him a document that grants him temporary asylum in the territory of the Russian Federation. I have just seen him off, and he has left the airport to go to a safe location.

JEFFREY BROWN: The National Security Agency leaker had been in limbo in the airport’s transit zone for more than a month. He managed to flee in a taxi, eluding the media throng that had camped there for weeks. Snowden will now be able to travel freely throughout Russia, but his lawyer said his exact whereabouts are being kept secret for security reasons.

ANATOLY KUCHERENA (through interpreter): He will choose his place of residence himself. He can live in a hotel or an apartment. As he is one of the most wanted people on earth, he will be making sure his place of residence is absolutely safe.

JEFFREY BROWN: Snowden released his own statement through the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, which has a legal adviser traveling with him.

The statement read, in part: “We have seen the Obama administration show no respect for international or domestic law, but in the end the law is winning. I thank the Russian Federation for granting me asylum in accordance with its laws and international obligations.”

U.S. officials had demanded Snowden be returned home to face espionage charges for leaking information about the NSA’s secret surveillance of phone and Internet communications. But Russian President Vladimir Putin refused to expel him, and one of Putin’s aides downplayed today’s development, insisting — quote — “This issue isn’t significant enough to have an impact on political relations.”

But, in Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Snowden’s release has U.S. officials weighing whether to cancel President Obama’s planned summit with Putin next month.

JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: We will obviously be in contact with Russian authorities, expressing our extreme disappointment in this decision and making the case clearly that there is absolute legal justification for Mr. Snowden to be returned to the United States, where he is under indictment on three charges, felony charges.

JEFFREY BROWN: Meanwhile, the president met privately with a bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers to address concerns about the NSA’s surveillance programs.

Back in Russia, Snowden now has a grant of asylum for at least a year. That can be extended indefinitely, and he even has the right to seek Russian citizenship.