NBC News is reporting that two intelligence officials say that Russian President Vladimir Putin is considering turning over NSA leaker Edward Snowden to the U.S. in order to “curry favor” with the new Trump administration.
Trump has said that Snowden is a “spy” and a “traitor” and deserves to be executed.
Snowden’s ACLU lawyer, Ben Wizner, told NBC News they are unaware of any plans that would send him back to the United States.
“Team Snowden has received no such signals and has no new reason for concern,” Wizner said.
Snowden responded to NBC’s report on Twitter and said it shows that he did not work with the Russian government.
“Finally: irrefutable evidence that I never cooperated with Russian intel,” Snowden said. “No country trades away spies, as the rest would fear they’re next.”
Snowden’s statement is disingenuous. It hardly matters that he wasn’t working for Russian intelligence. The FSB got all they needed from his leaking.
Former deputy national security adviser Juan Zarate urged the Trump administration to be cautious in accepting any Snowden offer from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“For Russia, this would be a win-win. They’ve already extracted what they needed from Edward Snowden in terms of information and they’ve certainly used him to beat the United States over the head in terms of its surveillance and cyber activity,” Zarate said.
“It would signal warmer relations and some desire for greater cooperation with the new administration, but it would also no doubt stoke controversies and cases in the U.S. around the role of surveillance, the role of the U.S. intelligence community, and the future of privacy and civil liberties in an American context.
“All of that would perhaps be music to the ears of Putin.”
The White House had no comment, but the Justice Department told NBC News it would welcome the return of Snowden, who currently faces federal charges that carry a minimum of 30 years in prison. Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said talk about returning Snowden is “nonsense.”
If he were returned to American soil, Snowden — a divisive figure in America who is seen by some as a hero and others as treasonous — would face an administration that has condemned him in the strongest terms.
“I think he’s a total traitor and I would deal with him harshly,” Trump said in July. “And if I were president, Putin would give him over.” In October 2013, Trump tweeted: “Snowden is a spy who should be executed.”
This story has a whiff of fake news about it. What would Putin really gain from “currying favor” with the Trump administration? And would it even be necessary to return Snowden for Trump to look to improve relations with Russia?
There are other ways that Putin could signal a dramatic change in U.S.-Russian relations that would not put the Russian president in the position of abandoning someone who has proved to be an invaluable propaganda tool for Russia. The bottom line is that Snowden is more valuable to the Kremlin as a high-profile defector than as a “gift” to Trump with limited value.