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NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s asylum in Russia has been extended by three years, according to since-confirmed claims made in a Wednesday morning Facebook post by foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
In the hours following the post, Snowden’s Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, verified to national news agencies that the government had indeed extended the leave of asylum until 2020—noting that, in time, this development would open up the right to apply for citizenship.
Zakharova’s status takes aim at a recent article by former CIA Director Michael Morell published in the Cipher Brief. In the article, Morell poses that Russian President Vladimir Putin should deliver Snowden to the incoming Trump administration as a “perfect inauguration gift.”
“What better way for President Putin to cement the personal tie than to give the President-Elect a high-profile gift—Snowden,” Morell wistfully contemplates in his column. “At the same time, what better way for President Putin to poke his finger in the eye of his adversary Barack Obama than to put Snowden on a plane at the very moment Mr. Obama is no longer president?”
The Russian spokeswoman, however, ridiculed Morell’s lack of insight and poor assessment of the realities in her response: “The funny thing is that [he is] the former deputy head of the CIA!!! He does not know that Snowden had just extended the term of the residence permit in Russia for another couple of years.”
“The essence of what this CIA man is suggesting is the ideology of betrayal,” Zakharova continued. “You’ve let it slip, Mr Morell, that for your agency it’s quite normal to offer up people as gifts, and to give up those who are seeking protection.”
Snowden has resided in Russia since June 2013 and is currently wanted by U.S law enforcement following his leak of over 1.7 million classified National Security Agency documents to journalists. The enormous leak exposed the mass surveillance of citizens and the apparatus that enabled it at both national and international levels.
The news of his residency permit extension comes just one day after President Barack Obama commuted the sentence of another high-profile whistleblower, Chelsea Manning. Manning, who leaked a trove of State Department documents to WikiLeaks, is now due to be released from prison on May 17. Her sentence, the longest in U.S. history for a government leaker, would have otherwise extended to 2045.
Snowden had also appealed to the President to issue him a pardon but, despite developments in Manning’ case and as President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration draws nearer, it remains uncertain as to whether this will be acknowledged.
David Gilmour is a reporter who specializes in national politics, internet culture, and technology.