The Trump administration should be cautious in accepting any Snowden offer from Putin, said former deputy national security adviser Juan Zarate.
‘For Russia, this would be a win-win. They’ve already extracted what they needed from Edward Snowden in terms of information and they’ve certainly used him to beat the United States over the head in terms of its surveillance and cyber activity’, said Zarate.
‘It would signal warmer relations and some desire for greater cooperation with the new administration, but it would also no doubt stoke controversies and cases in the US around the role of surveillance, the role of the US intelligence community, and the future of privacy and civil liberties in an American context.
‘All of that would perhaps be music to the ears of Putin’.
The White House didn’t comment on the report, but the Justice Department told NBC News it would welcome the return of Snowden, who has been charged under the Espionage Act and could face decades in prison.
Snowden was working as a contractor at a National Security Agency facility in Hawaii when he leaked a trove of documents to journalists in 2013 that exposed widespread surveillance on ordinary Americans through the bulk collection of metadata.
He fled to and was granted asylum in Moscow. His residency permit was recently extended until 2020, which could make him eligible to apply for Russian citizenship, officials say.
Trump and CIA Director Mike Pompeo have condemned Snowden in the strongest terms.
‘I think he’s a total traitor and I would deal with him harshly’, said Trump in July.
‘And if I were president, Putin would give him over’.
In October 2013, Trump tweeted: ‘Snowden is a spy who should be executed’.
Pompeo concurred last February: ‘I think the proper outcome would be that he would be given a death sentence’.
In a December interview live streamed on Twitter, Snowden said being forced to return to the US would be a human-rights violation.
‘A lot of people have asked me: Is there going to be some kind of deal where Trump says, “Hey look, give this guy to me as some kind of present”? Will I be sent back to the US, where I’ll be facing a show trial?’ said Snowden.
‘Is this going to happen? I don’t know. Could it happen? Sure. Am I worried about it? Not really, because here’s the thing: I am very comfortable with the decisions that I’ve made. I know I did the right thing’.
Snowden’s Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, told Russian news agency RIA Novosti that Snowden wants to return to the US without the fear of arrest.
‘We hope very much that the new U.S. president would show some weighted approach to the issue and make the one and only correct decision — to stop prosecution against Edward Snowden’, Kucherena said.
There’s no way to predict if Putin will hand Snowden over to Trump, Zarate said.