Edward Snowden has raised concerns regarding his safety in Russia, where the former U.S. intelligence contractor has resided for over five years in the wake of leaking classified National Security Agency documents.
“As for the future in Russia and what will happen there, I can’t say I’m safe. I don’t know” Mr. Snowden said Thursday during an address telecast to a crowd in Austria.
“But the real question is: Does it matter?” the NSA leaker added. “I didn’t come forward to be safe.”
Mr. Snowden, 35, had has passport revoked while traveling internationally in June 2013 shortly after revealing himself as the source of recently leaked NSA documents, leaving him stateless and stranded at an airport near Moscow for several weeks prior to ultimately receiving asylum from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He previously worked for the CIA in addition to government contractors Dell and Booz Allen Hamilton, including a stint at the latter’s office in Kunia Camp, Hawaii, prior to being terminated after leaking documents exposing the NSA’s surveillance abilities and operations.
“If I wanted safety, I’d be sitting in Hawaii right now, making a lot of money, spying on everyone,” Mr. Snowden said during Thursday’s event, organized by University of Innsbruck in Tyrol, Austria.
Mr. Snowden’s asylum status is valid through at least 2020, his lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, said previously. Questions concerning his fate have emerged repeatedly in recent years, however, on account of factors including his criticism of Mr. Putin’s policies, as well as President Trump, a staunch critic of unauthorized leaks and Mr. Snowden in particular, taking office in 2017.
He previously referred to a surveillance law signed by Mr. Putin in 2016 as “an unworkable, unjustifiable violation of rights,” and his leaks resulted in Mr. Trump previously called him a “traitor” who should be executed accordingly.
“I have criticized them repeatedly,” Mr. Snowden said of the Russian government during Thursday’s event, “…and I will continue to do so. But my focus is not going to be on Russia, because Russia is not my home. Russia is my place of exile. The United States will always be my first priority.”
“We have to fix our own societies first before we try to save the world” Mr. Snowden added.
Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, indicated earlier this year that Moscow was disinterested in pursuing any plans to punt Mr. Snowden back to the U.S., where he faces criminal counts of espionage and potentially a lengthy prison sentence.
“We respect his rights as an individual,” Mr. Lavrov said previously. “And that’s why we were not able, we were not in the position to expel him against his will – because he found himself in Russia even without the U.S. passport.”
Mr. Trump, on his part, has expressed a drastically different opinion with respect to Mr. Snowden.
“A spy in the old days, when our country was respected and strong, would be executed,” Mr. Trump tweeted in 2014.