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Will Snowden Continue Leaks if Granted Russian Political Asylum?

July 12, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
For the first time in weeks, it was confirmed that NSA leaker Edward Snowden is in Moscow. Ray Suarez talks to Ellen Barry of the New York Times about Snowden's dwindling options, his defense of his actions and what conditions Russia may enforce in order to agree to hosting him.
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TRANSCRIPT

RAY SUAREZ: For more on all of this, we turn to Ellen Barry, The New York Times Moscow bureau chief. I spoke to her a short while ago.

Ellen Barry, welcome to the program.

Well, we got to see Edward Snowden for the first time in some time, publicly, on camera. Now that that day is ending in Moscow, are we any clearer about what his situation is?

ELLEN BARRY, The New York Times: I think so.

I mean, for one thing, we know he’s in Moscow. No one had seen him for the three weeks since he arrived here from Hong Kong. The main thing that he made clear today is that he is running out of options and that Russia is the default position, and he views it as his safest and maybe actually his only option right now.

RAY SUAREZ: But he did say he hopes to eventually end up in Latin America. Was there any discussion of how that might happen?

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ELLEN BARRY: You know, there was no specific discussion that I’m aware of. He did talk a great deal about the attempts of the — you know, by the U.S. or European countries to prevent him from making his way to Latin American countries.

He expressed gratitude towards those countries who had offered him asylum. He said that they were four, and among them is Russia. But it seemed clear from the presentation and even the fact that he had this meeting at all today, that he is principally concerned about his safety and he sees Russia as his only safe option.

RAY SUAREZ: Earlier, Russia rebuffed is asylum request. And the president, Vladimir Putin, had gone as far as to say that perhaps he could stay if he no longer leaked and no longer revealed surveillance secrets of a friendly country, the United States. Where does that stand now? Did he make an assurance that he’s done leaking?

ELLEN BARRY: Well, he said that he saw this condition as not being an obstacle to his remaining in Russia. He also went on to say that he never intended to harm the interests of the United States, and that in fact his past actions have not been intended to do that.

So it wasn’t entirely clear from what he said whether he was guaranteeing that there would be no more leaking of classified materials or simply that he didn’t view them as damaging to the United States. But given that he is, you know, involved in some kind of a negotiation with President Putin, it may well be that he is willing to agree not to publish further.

RAY SUAREZ: It was interesting, as you mentioned, he gave further explanation of himself, asserted his bona fides as a real whistle-blower and not someone who was involved in espionage or theft, didn’t he?

ELLEN BARRY: Well, he certainly portrayed his actions — he regards himself as a patriot and portrayed his actions as sort of oriented towards the greater good for Americans and other people.

But, actually, I would say the thrust of his discussion today had to do with the practical question of where he goes, and what his next steps are, because for the last week or so, really maybe the last two weeks, it’s looked increasingly like — increasingly like he has no options.

RAY SUAREZ: So you could see that he’s actually more concerned, worried about his future?

ELLEN BARRY: I must say that I — me and my colleagues spoke to quite a number of people who were in that meeting. And none of them conveyed — none of them said that they saw him as — they mostly said that he appeared cheerful, that he appeared to be in good physical condition, and not particularly anxious.

They described him as perhaps shy or not comfortable speaking to an audience necessarily. But everyone described him as not being distraught and perhaps as being sort of optimistic about what would come of this meeting.

He asked the group of people who were invited today to intercede on his behalf, both with President Putin, I assume to increase his chances of actually gaining asylum, and with the United States, presumably to prevent further efforts on his part to make his way to Latin America, which he says is his final destination.

RAY SUAREZ: Who were the other people in the room? They have been described as a mix of human rights people and Russian parliamentarians. Were they politicians that were — who are close to the current government of Putin?

ELLEN BARRY: Right.

I mean, that was one of the most interesting things about this group of people. They were rather mysteriously invited via e-mail yesterday evening at a point where basically no one knew whether this was a real e-mail address or the real Ed Snowden.

A few of them were representatives of internationally recognized human rights organizations like Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch, who are often extremely independent and in fact critical of the Russian government.

And then there were others really across the gamut who are either politicians or political analysts, but in one way or another sort of pro-system public figures or pro-Kremlin figures.

RAY SUAREZ: And, quickly, to close, Ellen Barry, can we assume that the next step is still a kind of mystery, what happens next to Edward Snowden?

ELLEN BARRY: Well, I mean, what appeared today is that the process of his asylum bid is getting started and there’s really no way to put the toothpaste back in the tube now.

One of the invited guests who is a Kremlin-connected lawyer said that he expected that reviewing this appeal would only take about two or three weeks.

That’s a relatively short time for an asylum bid. And soon thereafter, you began to hear from some fairly influential and well-connected politicians who are coming out and saying that Russia really should give him asylum.

That inclines me to think that it’s quite likely that he will receive it, but only time will tell. And obviously if he has the option of traveling to Latin America, that appears to be his preference. Russia is for him really a default option.

RAY SUAREZ: Ellen Barry of The New York Times, thanks for joining us.

How does Edward Snowden compare to others who have been charged with espionage? Online, we take an in-depth look at the increase of prosecutions of leakers under the Obama administration.