Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed today that Edward Snowden is in a Moscow airport, but said he is a "free person" and will not be stopped from leaving the country by Russian authorities, despite warnings from the U.S. government that the 30-year-old be handed over.
"In the territory of Russia, Mr. Snowden committed no crimes," Putin said. "Mr. Snowden is a free person. The sooner he chooses his final destination, the better it is for us and for him."
Putin said that Snowden is in the transit zone of a Moscow airport and has not technically crossed the border in Russia. Even if he had, Putin said Russia and the U.S. don't have a relevant extradition treaty and that any accusations leveled at the Kremlin for not grabbing Snowden were "gibberish" and "nonsense."
Just hours before Putin's comments, top U.S. officials warned Russia to turn over the former contractor for the National Security Agency.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday it would be "very disappointing" if Snowden was "willfully allowed to board an airplane... and there would be without any question some effect on the relationship and consequences." Today the Secretary said that even though Russia and the U.S. do not have a standard extradition treaty, there were still "standards of behavior" between sovereign nations and the request for Snowden was "normal and basic."
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday the U.S. expected the Russian government to "examine the options and appropriately expel Mr. Snowden."
Before Putin's comments today, former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told CNN that by not acting, it already appeared Putin, an "old KGB colonel," "continues to stick his thumb in our eye."
Snowden, who worked as an NSA contractor after a stint as a former undercover CIA computer specialist, stunned U.S. officials over the weekend when he escaped Hong Kong, where he had been hiding for weeks, on a flight for Moscow, despite the U.S. revoking his passport the day before his flight. It was from a hotel room in Hong Kong days before that Snowden claimed to The Guardian newspaper to be behind a series of headline-grabbing stories about the NSA's "horrifying" domestic and international surveillance programs.
Hong Kong officials said they had no legal basis for keeping Snowden from traveling, but White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday the U.S. government isn't "buying" that excuse.
"This was a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant, and that decision unquestionably has a negative impact on [the] U.S.-China relationship," Carney said. Similar ominous diplomatic warnings followed for Russia.
Fears Over Snowden's Secrets
Snowden is reportedly traveling with four laptops and a head full of U.S. government secrets and while he denies working with anyone other than journalists, some current and former U.S. officials still fear that Chinese intelligence agents may have already stolen some secrets from him in Hong Kong and that the Russian intelligence service could be doing the same now.
"They might like to have him go to sleep while they play with his computers he's brought along with him," said former White House counter-terrorism advisor and current ABC News consultant Richard Clarke. "Maybe they'd like to make him an offer. Maybe they'd like to have a conversation."
Monday Julian Assange, founder of the WikiLeaks organization, which he said is advising Snowden, was asked by ABC News if there were concerns the trove of information on Snowden's laptops could fall into the wrong hands. Without elaborating, Assange said that the material "has been secured by the relevant journalist organizations prior to travel."
Today Glenn Greenwald, a column for The Guardian who broke the first of the NSA stories based on Snowden's information, went further, telling The Daily Beast that Snowden had taken extraordinary precautions by sending highly encrypted files to several people for insurance. The recipients would only be allowed to open the file should something happen to Snowden, Greenwald said, so that the stories would still get out.
Putin reportedly said today Russian security services have not, and will not, work with Snowden.
As U.S. officials await Snowden's next move, former undercover CIA agent Emily Brandwin, who posts on Twitter under the handle @CIAspygirl, said it appears some major world powers are left playing "hot potato, hot potato."
"I think we're all just collectively waiting to see where the music stops, to see where he lands," she said. "It's the most epic game of Marco Polo ever."
ABC News' Kirit Radia and Lee Ferran contributed to this report.
- Politics & Government