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U.S. 'Extremely Disappointed' At Russia's Asylum For Snowden

NSA leaker Edward Snowden has been granted temporary asylum in Russia. He left Moscow's airport Thursday for the first time in more than a month.
Tatyana Lokshina
NSA leaker Edward Snowden has been granted temporary asylum in Russia. He left Moscow's airport Thursday for the first time in more than a month.

This post was last updated at 2 p.m. ET

The White House says it is "extremely disappointed" in Russia's decision to grant a temporary one-year asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

Snowden left Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport on Thursday after spending more than a month holed up in its transit center. Anatoly Kucherena, a Russian lawyer who has been advising the former U.S. intelligence contractor, told Russian media that Snowden's whereabouts are being kept secret for security reasons.

The Obama administration's displeasure was clear:

"We are extremely disappointed that the Russian government would take this step despite our clear lawful requests in public and private to have Mr. Snowden expelled to the U.S. to face the charges against him," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says. "Mr. Snowden is not a whistleblower. He's accused of leaking classified information, charged with felony counts, and should be returned to the U.S. as soon as possible, where he'll be accorded due process."

NPR's Ari Shapiro forwarded us those notes from Carney's daily news briefing with reporters.

"This move by the Russian government undermines a long history of cooperation with Russia," Carney says, "cooperation that's been on the upswing since the Boston bombings."

President Obama is scheduled to visit Russia in September to attend the G-20 economic summit. Those meetings will be held St. Petersburg; even before Thursday's events, tension between the U.S. and Russia over Snowden had fueled speculation that Obama might not visit Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow during his trip.

Carney says that in light of what he said is "not a positive development," the White House is "evaluating the utility of a summit."

When asked what steps the United States might take now that Snowden has been given asylum, Carney said, "We'll obviously be in contact with Russian authorities expressing our extreme disappointment in this decision" and reiterating the case to return the former intelligence contract employee to the U.S.

Update at 9:20 a.m. ET: Possible Conditions To Asylum?

Speaking earlier this summer about Snowden's search for a safe haven as U.S. authorities pursue espionage charges against him, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Snowden could stay in Russia only if he stops any activities that would damage the United States, NPR's Corey Flintoff reminds us.

"Britain's Guardian newspaper has published new information about U.S. programs," Corey says, "and is said to have much more information that Snowden provided."

On Wednesday, the newspaper published information on a program called XKeyscore, which it compared to the previously disclosed PRISM. The Guardian reported that XKeyscore allows NSA analysts to "mine enormous agency databases" with only a cursory explanation.

The Guardian suggested that the program could give an analyst access to "nearly everything a typical user does on the Internet" — including Americans and foreigners, as The Two-Way reported Wednesday.

It's not yet clear whether Snowden pledged to stop the flow of secret information in order to receive asylum.

In the past, Putin has suggested the complicated Snowden case may be more trouble than it's worth. Or at least, that's what we were left to believe after he unveiled this simile in June: "In any case, I would like not to deal with such issues because it is like shearing a pig: There's lots of squealing and little fleece."

Update at 8:35 a.m. ET: WikiLeaks Reacts To Snowden's Departure

"We would like to thank the Russian people and all those others who have helped to protect Mr. Snowden," WikiLeaks says. "We have won the battle --now the war."

The anti-secrecy group, which has been in contact with Snowden since he was in Hong Kong, says that the American "has now left Moscow airport under the care of WikiLeaks' Sarah Harrison."

News of Snowden's departure from Sheremetyevo International Airport comes one day after his father, Lon, told The Washington Post that he had declined an offer to travel to Moscow in an effort to get his son to come back to the United States.

Lon Snowden said the proposal fell apart after FBI officials said they could not guarantee he would speak with his son.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, folks, I'm not going to sit on the tarmac to be an emotional tool for you,' " Snowden told The Post's Jerry Markon.

Edward Snowden, 30, faces charges of espionage for releasing classified documents to The Guardian and other news media detailing the National Security Agency's broad spying programs and, in particular, its ability to monitor the phone and Internet activity of American citizens.

In his interview with The Post, Lon Snowden said his son loves the United States and grew up around law enforcement officials in Maryland. He also said, "If he comes back to the United States, he is going to be treated horribly. He is going to be thrown into a hole. He is not going to be allowed to speak."

Since the revelations about the NSA's spying abilities, the U.S. government has attempted to reassure Americans that their privacy is not at risk.

Several hearings in Congress have focused on the matter, and as The Two-Way reported yesterday, NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander told a crowd at a large annual hackers' convention in Las Vegas that the agency's analysts do not abuse their authority. And "if they did," he said, "our auditing tools would detect them and they would be held accountable."

Our original post:

NSA leaker Edward Snowden has left Moscow's airport, his Russian legal adviser told reporters Thursday. Snowden arrived at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport from Hong Kong more than a month ago, after news media published a trove of secret U.S. documents supplied by the former National Security Agency contractor.

The White House is "extremely disappointed" by the action, says Press Secretary Jay Carney.

Snowden's Russian adviser, Anatoly Kucherena, "has told reporters that he passed along documents to Edward Snowden allowing him to enter Russian soil," NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Moscow. "Kucherena and sources at Sheremetyevo Airport say Snowden has left the airport."

Snowden has been granted asylum for a period of at least one year.

Earlier Thursday, WikiLeaks tweeted, "Edward Snowden has successfully acquired refugee status in Russia and will shortly leave the airport."

We will update this post with more details as they emerge.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.