NSA leaker Edward Snowden remained stuck in legal limbo Tuesday as he frantically seeks asylum, but his case prompted an unprecedented apology from the nation’s top intelligence officer.
National Intelligence Director James R. Clapper apologized for misleading Congress earlier this year when he said that the National Security Agency does not collect data on millions of Americans.
He called his response “clearly erroneous” in a June 21 letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Mr. Snowden, 30, has been charged with espionage for leaking documents revealing the NSA’s daily sweeps of phone and Internet records, which U.S. intelligence officials have described as pattern analysis, not content analysis, and aimed at unearthing potential terrorist suspects.
Mr. Clapper was asked by the intelligence committee in March if the NSA gathered data on “millions or hundreds of Americans.” The intelligence chief said previously in an interview with MSNBC-TV that he tried to give “the least untruthful answer possible.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Snowden’s increasingly desperate bids for asylum to escape prosecution on espionage charges could lead him back to America — specifically, South America.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro defended the accused leaker to Russian reporters Tuesday during a visit to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“He did not kill anyone and did not plant a bomb,” said Mr. Maduro, according to the Interfax news agency. “What he did was tell a great truth in an effort to prevent wars. He deserves protection under international and humanitarian law.”
Mr. Maduro avoided saying whether he would admit the accused leaker, but Bolivian President Evo Morales said in an interview with Russian Today television that his country would be willing to consider granting asylum to Mr. Snowden.
“If there were a request, of course we would be willing to debate and consider the idea,” Mr. Morales said on RT Actualidad, a Spanish-language broadcast, adding that in the past, “Bolivia was there to shield the denounced.”
Both South American leaders were in Moscow for a summit of major gas exporters.
Later Tuesday, Mr. Morales’ plane home from Russia was rerouted to Austria after France and Portugal refused to let it cross their airspace because of suspicions that Mr. Snowden, who has been stuck inside Moscow’s airport, was being secreted back to Bolivia — an allegation the South American country immediately denied.
Venezuela is one of 19 nations to which Mr. Snowden has applied for asylum, according to the WikiLeaks website in a post late Monday. The anti-secrecy group is aiding Mr. Snowden in his efforts to escape U.S. prosecution.
Mr. Snowden, 30, has also applied for asylum to Cuba, China, Nicaragua, India and several European nations, according to the WikiLeaks post. But he withdrew his application for asylum to Russia after learning the terms, according to Russian newspapers.
Mr. Snowden’s father, Lon Snowden, issued an open letter Tuesday in which he called his son “a modern day Paul Revere: summoning the American people to confront the growing danger of tyranny and one branch government.”
A retired Coast Guard officer, Lon Snowden told The Washington Times in an interview published Monday that he has grown increasingly disillusioned with the U.S. government.
“I’m an American citizen who has lost faith in many of the leaders on both sides of the political aisle,” Mr. Snowden said.
His son blasted the Obama administration in a statement released Monday via WikiLeaks for revoking his passport and leaving him “stateless.”
⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.