The first verified photograph of Edward Snowden in Russia has appeared, showing the NSA whistleblower meeting four former US government officials who presented him with an award for “integrity in intelligence”.
The picture appeared hours after Snowden’s father landed in Moscow and said he hoped to visit his son, who has not been seen in public since he was granted asylum in Russia in August. Snowden, who leaked information about US surveillance programmes to the Guardian, was given the right to remain in Russia for a year after spending five weeks in limbo at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport over the summer. He is wanted in the US on espionage charges. Lon Snowden arrived at the same airport early on Thursday morning and was escorted through the VIP terminal by Anatoly Kucherena, his son’s lawyer.
“I am his father, I love my son and … I certainly hope I will have an opportunity to see my son,” said Lon Snowden in brief remarks to Russian television crews at the airport. “I am not sure my son will be returning to the US again,” he said. As of Thursday evening, the two had not met, but the elder Snowden told journalists he expected a meeting to take place soon. Kucherena said that other members of the Snowden family planned to visit Moscow in the near future.
Edward Snowden arrived in Moscow on a flight from Hong Kong in June and apparently intended to board an onward flight bound for Latin America. However, US authorities cancelled his passport and he remained stuck at the airport for five weeks, before Russia granted him political asylum.
On Thursday, Lon Snowden spoke of his “extreme gratitude that my son is safe and secure and he’s free”, and later thanked President Vladimir Putin and Kucherena during an interview with state-controlled Russian television.
Putin, himself a former KGB spy, does not have much sympathy for whistleblowers and has described Snowden as “a strange guy”, but said that Russia had no choice but to offer him asylum, provided the whistleblower agreed to stop his leaks. Lon Snowden said he understood his son had not been involved in the publication of new information since his arrival in Russia and was “simply trying to remain healthy and safe”.
Some have suggested it is likely that Snowden is being held under guard of the FSB, Russia’s security service, but the Russians have insisted that they have neither received, nor attempted to extract, any of Snowden’s secrets.
The four former US government officials who met Snowden said he was in good spirits and dismissed claims that he was in any way restricted by the Russian government. He was presented with the Sam Adams award for integrity in intelligence, which has been given yearly since 2002, when it was award to Coleen Rowley, the former FBI agent who before the 9/11 attacks denounced the agency’s failure to investigate suggestions that Islamist militants were targeting the US. In 2010, the award was given to Wikileaks and Julian Assange.
“He spoke very openly about a whole range of things, a number of which I won’t get into here, but it certainly didn’t involve any kind of manipulation by the Russian government or anyone else for that matter,” Jesselyn Radack, formerly of the US justice department and now with an organisation that protects whistleblowers, told the Associated Press. “He definitely is his own person and makes his own decisions and says and does what he wants to.” She and others present at the meeting refused to disclose where it had taken place.