The saga of National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden took several more twists over the weekend as new revelations about US electronic snooping emerged.
The German magazine Der Spiegel reported Saturday that the NSA had bugged European Union offices and gained access to EU internal computer networks where it was able to read documents and emails. United Nations offices were similarly targeted, reports Der Spiegel based on information provided by Mr. Snowden.
Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, said that if the report was correct, it would have a “severe impact” on relations between the EU and the United States, reports Reuters.
“On behalf of the European Parliament, I demand full clarification and require further information speedily from the US authorities with regard to these allegations,” he said in an emailed statement.
Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn told Der Spiegel: “If these reports are true, it’s disgusting. The United States would be better off monitoring its secret services rather than its allies. We must get a guarantee from the very highest level now that this stops immediately.”
Snowden himself remains in what amounts to protective custody at the airport in Moscow – unable to leave a transit hotel because he doesn’t have a Russian visa, unwilling at this point to return to the United States to face espionage charges, stuck there because no third country has yet to offer him asylum. As of Sunday, Snowden had been at the airport in Moscow for a week – a sort of “man without a country” (or at least without a proper US passport, since his has been invalidated).
For a while, it seemed, Snowden was headed to Ecuador (by way of Cuba), the country that has provided refuge to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at its embassy in London. But Ecuador appears to be having second thoughts about that; at least it seems to have created a Catch-22 situation by announcing that it can’t consider asylum for Snowden until he presents himself in the country.
Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden has kept up official US pressure – urging Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa in a telephone conversation Friday to reject any application for political asylum from Snowden.
“As in all of our communications with foreign governments regarding Edward Snowden, we have advised the government of Ecuador of the felony charges against Mr. Snowden and urged that he should not be allowed to proceed in any further international travel, other than is necessary to return him to the United States,” a US official told the Wall Street Journal on Saturday.
Would Snowden, the 30 year-old former National Security Agency contractor who leaked bombshell revelations about NSA gathering of telephone and Internet metadata to the Washington Post and the British newspaper the Guardian, in fact consider returning to the US to face charges?
Those felony charges include theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information, and willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person. The latter two offenses fall under the US Espionage Act and can bring up to 10 years in prison.
Snowden’s father suggests that his son – branded as a “traitor” by some, hailed as a whistleblowing hero by others – might come home, but only under certain circumstances.
In an interview on NBC’s Today show, Lonnie Snowden said the US Justice Department would have to promise not to detain his son before a trial nor subject him to a gag order. He also wants his son to choose where a trial would take place.
Such demands seem like a nonstarter, and the elder Mr. Snowden acknowledges that he has not yet talked with his son. In any case, he said in the interview, he’s worried about his son’s connections with the controversial whistleblowing organization.
“I don’t want to put him in peril, but I am concerned about those who surround him,” Lonnie Snowden said. “I think WikiLeaks, if you’ve looked at past history, you know, their focus isn’t necessarily the Constitution of the United States. It’s simply to release as much information as possible.”
Which is exactly the point Mr. Assange made Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
“Look, there is no stopping the publishing process at this stage,” he told George Stephanopoulos. “Great care has been taken to make sure that Mr. Snowden can’t be pressured by any state to stop the publication process.”