Edward Snowden, the former U.S. intelligence contractor wanted for revealing the National Security Agency’s secret program to collect American phone and Internet records, left a Moscow airport Thursday after officials granted him temporary asylum, his lawyer said.
Attorney Anatoly Kucherena appeared on Russian television and said Snowden had been granted asylum in Russia for one year, showing a scanned copy of an official document approving his asylum request. Snowden was in a safe place, according to Kucherena, who said he would not reveal the location for security reasons.
In a statement released by secret-spilling website WikiLeaks, Snowden thanked Russia for giving him asylum and criticized the Obama administration as showing “no respect” for the law.
Snowden said that “in the end the law is winning.”
Snowden left Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport at around 7:30 a.m. Eastern according to the lawyer, who said he had personally handed him the necessary documents on Thursday morning. Snowden had been stuck in the airport’s transit zone since arriving from Hong Kong on June 23.
CBS News Moscow bureau chief Svetlana Berdnikova said Snowden left the airport in a taxi, avoiding the media on his way out.
In separate interviews broadcast on Wednesday, Lon Snowden praised Russian leader Vladimir Putin for protecting his son, who has been labeled a traitor by many politicians in the United States for revealing the top-secret data-monitoring program. The elder Snowden said he hoped to visit Russia to see his son.
In Washington, spokesman Jay Carney said the White House is “extremely disappointed” in Russia’s decision to grant asylum to Snowden.
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“He is accused of leaking classified information,” Carney said. “He should be returned to the United Stated as soon as possible.”
Carney added that the administration is re-evaluating whether a planned bilateral summit this fall with President Obama and Putin should still occur.
Mr. Obama and other American officials have urged Russia to hand Snowden over to face prosecution, but there is no formal extradition treaty between the two nations. Putin had essentially punted the issue, saying Snowden was a free man who came to Russia without warning and suggesting his immigration status would be decided by the Federal Migration Service (FMS), like any other asylum seeker.
The dissident’s ongoing presence in Moscow has already increased friction between Moscow and Washington, but Putin’s aide, Yuri Ushakov, told the RIA-Novosti news agency Thursday that the Kremlin hadn’t received “any signals from American authorities” to suggest the case might impede a planned visit by President Obama to Moscow in the autumn.
CBS News’ Berdnikova reports that Pavel Durov, the founder of the social network service “VKontakte,” has invited Snowden to work for his company.
“I think it might be interesting for Edward to deal with the protection of personal data of millions of our people,” Durov wrote online.
According to Russian immigration law, with asylum now granted, Snowden has the same rights as any other citizen of the Russian Federation. It has been widely reported by Russian media that the documentation from the FMS will allow Snowden to move freely within the country’s borders, but CBS News’ Berdnikova reports that Snowden cannot leave Russia with his temporary asylum documents. The U.S. government has cancelled Snowden’s passport.
Kucherena said Snowden would be speaking to the media in the coming days, but he gave no further details.
WikiLeaks, which has rallied to Snowden’s support and provided legal assistance to him for weeks, said in a volley of tweets on Thursday that he left the airport “in the care of” the organization’s representative, Sarah Harrison.