Russian government officials extended Edward Snowden’s period of asylum for a period of up to three years last Tuesday, Jan. 17.
Snowden, a former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency and contractor for the United States government, is infamous for leaking classified information about surveillance and data collection programs from the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013.
Snowden has already been living in Moscow for four years. However, Moscow was not Snowden’s original destination for his escape.
He only ended up in Russia after his attempts to fly to a Latin American country were stymied.
Now, it appears that Snowden’s stay in Russia will be extended.
The announcement came from Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry. The information came from a Facebook post on the official Facebook page.
The commentary in her post lambasted the acting director of the CIA, and was aimed at the United States, ridiculing the idea that extraditing Snowden would be the the perfect gift for President Trump.
Indeed, Russia’s move is contrary to the very vocal wishes of United States government officials. Former acting director of the CIA, Michael J. Morrell, expressed his desire that Snowden be extradited back to the U.S.
Morrell even insinuated that the gesture would be important in fostering a good relationship from the outset as the U.S. undergoes political transitions and the new Trump administration takes control of foreign policy.
The lack of a pardon for Snowden from the Obama administration disappointed Snowden’s supporters, who had actively campaigned for a pardon from the former president while he was still in office.
Some expected Snowden to be granted some amnesty since President Obama commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning.
Manning contributed to Wikileaks, disclosing some American unclassified but sensitive military and diplomatic documents.
The reason for the difference in the treatment of Manning and Snowden was explained by the White House’s press secretary, who indicated that Snowden’s actions were viewed as much more dangerous than those of Manning.
However, Snowden has voiced in the past that he stands by his decision to leak the classified American security information, arguing that his actions were ultimately beneficial.
In an interview with British newspaper The Guardian, Snowden pointed out that spilling security secrets was a morally motivated decision.
Furthermore, his actions resulted in the overhaul of security laws that are now taking place to the benefit of American citizens.
Snowden’s leaks constitute a breach of the United States Espionage Act, meaning he could face potentially 30 years in prison at minimum if he was convicted.
Remaining in Russia is certainly one way to escape retribution from the United Statess government.
Though Snowden has been granted extended asylum, it is uncertain how long he will remain in Russia.
According to his lawyer, Anatly G. Kucherena, Snowden’s extended asylum period time will stretch all the way until 2020.
At that time, Snowden will be able to apply for Russian citizenship, since he will have spent five years in the country.
Thus, the extended time span for Snowden’s asylum might bring him outside the reaches of the United States government permanently.
How the United States intelligence community handles this is to be seen.