Russia grants asylum to Edward Snowden

Snowden     The US has labelled Russia’s decision to grant asylum to fugitive intelligence leaker Edward Snowden as “extremely disappointing”.

The White House is reconsidering a meeting scheduled for next month between President Barack Obama and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. Mr Obama had been scheduled to meet Mr Putin on the sidelines of a G20 summit in early September in St Petersburg.

Mr Snowden, who left a Moscow airport transit zone for the first time since June, thanked Russia for its action. The US wants Mr Snowden extradited and tried for leaking secrets. Mr Snowden, who worked for the CIA and later for a firm contracted to the National Security Agency, leaked documents to journalists showing the extent of the NSA’s snooping programmes.

The fugitive left Sheremetyevo Airport at about 14:00 local time (10:00 GMT), according to his lawyer Anatoly Kucherena. Mr Kucherena said his client “assured me that he is not planning to publish any documents that blacken the American government”.

Mr Putin had earlier said this was a condition for granting any asylum. Russia’s Federal Migration Service later confirmed that Mr Snowden had been given asylum for one year. Mr Snowden’s presumed final destination is Latin America, but experts were unsure whether he would be able to travel abroad with the Russian travel documents.The one-year asylum can be extended indefinitely, and Snowden also has the right to seek Russian citizenship.

Information leaked by Mr Snowden first surfaced in the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers in early June.

It showed that the NSA was collecting the telephone records of millions of Americans.

The systems analyst also disclosed that the NSA had tapped directly into the servers of major internet firms to track online communication in a surveillance programme known as Prism.

Allegations later emerged that the US had spied on its EU allies, and ran huge data-collection operations from Brazil that snooped on Latin American businesses and governments.

By granting Mr. Snowden asylum,  Mr. Putin was implicitly rejecting the White House’s contention, that Mr. Snowden is not a whistle-blower but a rogue contractor accused of a felony, who poses a huge risk to its nation’s national security.

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