Russian President Vladimir Putin might turn over famous American whistleblower Edward Snowden to the US as a “gift” to President Donald Trump, US intelligence agencies have claimed.
Returning the NSA whistleblower is one of the many plans that Putin’s government is considering in order to “curry favor” with the new American president, NBC News reported Friday, citing a senior US official who has analyzed a series of highly sensitive intelligence reports concerning Russia.
A second source within the US intelligence community confirmed the report, noting that the matter has been mentioned in Russian conversations and notes gathered since Trump’s January 20 inauguration.
Snowden, who fled t Russia in 2013, is currently wanted for treason and faces up to 30 years in prison for leaking government secrets. Trump has called him a “spy” and a “traitor” who deserves to be executed.
The White House refused to comment on the matter but Trump’s Justice Department welcomed Snowden’s extradition.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the report as “nonsense.”
Ben Wizner, Snowden’s lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told NBC the organization was unaware of any such plans.
“Team Snowden has received no such signals and has no new reason for concern,” Wizner said.
Meanwhile, Juan Zarate, former deputy national security advisor in the George W. Bush administration, warned Washington to be careful in accepting any possible offer on Snowden.
“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,” Zarate said.
“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,” he argued. “All of that would perhaps be music to the ears of Putin.”
Speculations about Snowden’s handover grew after he began to criticize the Russian government
However, Putin personally rejected the claims and also denied reports that his government was working with Snowden.
“Russia is not the kind of country that hands over fighters for human rights,” the Russian president said in May 2014.