Edward Snowden, the US whistleblower who revealed in 2013 that the American government’s National Security Agency (NSA) was carrying out large-scale surveillance of its own citizens and abroad, was granted Russian citizenship by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday (September 27).
While Snowden had earlier expressed his wish to hold dual citizenship in the US and Russia, where he has been residing since the 2013 revelations, the move comes as Russia has announced plans to intensify its efforts for claiming areas of Ukraine after conducting referendums, and further deterioration of relations between the US and Russia.
Snowden was born and brought up in the US. He worked in the fields of IT and security and was employed at the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as a technical assistant before he joined the NSA, according to a 2013 profile in The Guardian.
It was The Guardian and The Washington Post that revealed in June 2013 that the US government and security agencies were running mass surveillance programmes, with the stated objective of tackling terrorism threats. One particularly controversial issue that was highlighted was the Prism programme, which, “according to the Snowden documents, is the biggest single contributor to its intelligence reports”. Under this, the US government allegedly collected user data from Google, Facebook, Apple, Yahoo and other websites.
There were also reports that Germany’s then Chancellor or Head of government Angela Merkel was spied on. All of this information was made public thanks to a whistleblower who was later revealed to be Snowden, then aged 29 years. He told The Guardian about his motivation behind the revelation, saying “The government has granted itself power it is not entitled to. There is no public oversight. The result is people like myself have the latitude to go further than they are allowed to”. In 2020, the US court of appeals for the ninth circuit ruled that the NSA’s programme to tap phones on a large scale was unlawful.
Following these reports, the US government faced criticism at home and beyond for the alleged violations of privacy and law. However, in 2013, it charged Snowden with theft of US government property and unauthorised communication of national defence information and providing classified information to The Guardian and The Washington Post. Snowden then left the US and went into hiding, first going to Hong Kong, and finally to Russia.
Snowden reached Russia in 2013 to escape an expected trial or arrest by US authorities, given the lack of a formal agreement between the two countries for deporting people accused of a crime, as well as their frosty relations. Right after landing in Moscow, Snowden had to stay at the airport for a month, after which he was granted temporary asylum.
According to Reuters, Edward Snowden was granted permanent residency rights in 2020. He was among the 72 foreign-born individuals who were given citizenship as per a decree by Putin on Monday. There was no particular comment on Snowden’s case by the Kremlin.
While he did not make any reference to it, Snowden tweeted a picture of his wife and children on September 27, saying: “After years of separation from our parents, my wife and I have no desire to be separated from our SONS. After two years of waiting and nearly ten years of exile, a little stability will make a difference for my family. I pray for privacy for them—and for us all.”
He linked the message to a 2020 tweet where he said during the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns, he and his family wanted to stay together – why he was applying for dual US-Russia citizenship.
Snowden’s lawyer Anatoliy Kucherena was quoted by Russian state-run news agencies as saying that his client has never served in the Russian army, the BBC reported, as many people wondered about Snowden being called for joining in the Ukraine war.
Partial mobilisation of troops was ordered by Putin last week, under which 300,000 military reservists were called to join the war.