September 17 will see private international publishing company Macmillan Publishers Ltd release a book by former employee of the United States' National Security Agency (NSA) Edward Snowden. Memoirs by the ex-NSA agent titled "Permanent Record" will hit the shelves in twenty countries, including the United States which he escaped more than six years ago.
Information on the book release came from Snowden during a two-hour interview with correspondent of Britain's Guardian newspaper Ewen MacAskill a day before. In this conversation he elaborated on his life in Moscow and plans for the future. According to Snowden, he recently stopped fearing US spies, began to lead a normal life and even secretly married his longtime girlfriend Lindsay Mills two years ago. Before her arrival in Moscow in 2014, Snowden had been living a somewhat solitary lifestyle, but now he seems to have grown more confident, travels a lot around Russia and embraces life.
"I’ve been to St. Petersburg, I’ve been to Sochi. I love travelling and I still do, even though I can’t cross borders now. One of the things that is lost in all the problematic politics of the Russian government is the fact this is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. The people are friendly. The people are warm. And when I came here I did not understand any of this. I was terrified of this place because, of course, they were the great fortress of the enemy, which is the way a CIA agent looks at Russia. It was never my plan to reside in Russia, but with time, with open eyes you can see that our presumptions of a place are almost always different from the reality", Snowden believes.
In the interview with The Guardian, Snowden recalled how he had managed to "steal" NSA's classified data. He just took the computer with the secret information out of the building. And when running into his boss as he was leaving the building and asked as to what he was doing with this machine, Snowden answered he was "stealing secrets". And he made them public afterwards. One might recall that in July 2013, Edward Snowden provided journalists of The Guardian and the Washington Post with documents on the American intelligence agencies' total surveillance program, including both the US citizens and people outside the country, top officials among them. For instance, the NSA monitored telephone conversations of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
According to Snowden, the only adequate response to a crime of comparable magnitude was the disclosure of secret programs. Back then, the revelations by the ex-NSA agent caused a real stir. To explain his action, Snowden noted the following in his memoirs: "It’s time to accept the fact that the intelligence community puts itself above the law, and given how much the system is destroyed, it is right in this. The intelligence community understood the rules of our system better than the people who created it and used this knowledge for their own purposes. They 'hacked' the constitution."
In the United States, Snowden was declared a traitor and charged with illegal transfer of information that poses a threat to the country's national security, the deliberate transfer of intelligence information and theft of state property. Under the US law, he faces a total of 30 years in prison.
It is notable that Russian President Vladimir Putin believes Snowden has never betrayed the United States. "Snowden is not a traitor. He did not betray the interests of his country, nor did he transfer any information to any other country that would damage his own people," Putin said in an interview with American film director Oliver Stone, published in the Hollywood Reporter of June 2017. However, Putin said he did not justify Snowden's actions. "But since you’re asking me if he [Snowden] did the right thing, I would say no, he did not," he stressed, noting that if the whistleblower did not like working with the NSA, he could have simply quit office.
But, as we can see, Snowden did not do that and, fearing imprisonment, left the United States first for Hong Kong and then for Moscow. At the Sheremetyevo airport his passport turned out to have been cancelled by the US authorities, and he had to stay at the airport's transit zone. After that, Snowden requested asylum in 27 countries, but no one except Russia agreed to grant it. First he was given temporary asylum for a year provided that he cease his activities against the United States. In August 2014, Snowden received a three-year residence permit allowing him to travel both Russia and abroad. In January 2017, Snowden's residence permit was extended until 2020.
Thus, the American intelligence services' key whistleblower became an unwitting hostage of circumstance and had to stay in Russia for more than six years. The former NSA agent himself says he would not mind to return home, but only in case of a fair trial, which he does not believe in, however. Apparently, this made Snowden, if you follow his interview with radio France Inter, ask for asylum in France and hope that President Emmanuel Macron allows his taking up residency in the country he heads.
Snowden's lawyer Anatoly Kucherena said the following when commenting on the desire of the former NSA employee to leave our country for France: "It doesn't mean he does not love our country." According to the lawyer, Snowden is satisfied with everything in Russia, and he is grateful to it. As Kucherena added, "he is a citizen of the world, he wants to travel and feels the need to have diversity in his life."
It is entirely possible that French President Macron will grant asylum to Edward Snowden, who will leave Russia with love...