Former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden broke his silence on Monday for the first time since fleeing to Moscow over a week ago, blasting the Obama administration and saying he remains free to make new disclosures about U.S. spying activity.
In a related development, Snowden has dropped his request for Russian asylum, apparently after President Vladimir Putin said he should stop "harming our American partners," the Kremlin said on Tuesday.
The Kremlin also confirmed that Snowden is staying in a transit area at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport.
Snowden, who faces espionage charges in the United States, surfaced with a letter to the Ecuadorean government and in a statement released through anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, which has taken up his cause.
In the WikiLeaks statement he accused the Obama administration of deception in a campaign to prevent him from finding political asylum and of "leaving me a stateless person" by revoking his U.S. passport.
Snowden, 30, had not been heard from in the eight days since he flew to Moscow from Hong Kong, where he had first taken refuge after fleeing Hawaii.
Snowden has sought asylum in Ecuador and in an undated letter sent to Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa seen by Reuters, said the United States was illegally persecuting him for revealing its electronic surveillance programme, Prism, but made it clear he did not intend to be muzzled.
"I remain free and able to publish information that serves the public interest," Snowden, who had been a contract employee for the U.S. National Security Agency, said in the letter.
"No matter how many more days my life contains, I remain dedicated to the fight for justice in this unequal world. If any of those days ahead realise a contribution to the common good, the world will have the principles of Ecuador to thank."
Snowden said the U.S. government was persecuting him.
"While the public has cried out support of my shining a light on this secret system of injustice, the Government of the United States of America responded with an extrajudicial man-hunt costing me my family, my freedom to travel, and my right to live peacefully without fear of illegal aggression," Snowden wrote.
In his WikiLeaks statement, Snowden lashed out at U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden for pressing Ecuador to turn him away.
"This kind of deception from a world leader is not justice, and neither is the extralegal penalty of exile," he said.
"Without any judicial order, the administration now seeks to stop me exercising a basic right," Snowden said. "A right that belongs to everybody. The right to seek asylum ... Their purpose is to frighten, not me, but those who would come after me."
U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman Nanda Chitre rejected Snowden's claim that he was marooned "since he is still a United States citizen and his country is willing to take him back."
"As the State Department has already said, the U.S. government is prepared to issue individuals wanted on felony charges a one entry travel document to return home," she said.
Snowden had given Russian diplomats a list of 15 countries, including Russia, where he wanted to apply for asylum, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing an unidentified Russian Foreign Ministry official. A Russian immigration source told Reuters that Snowden had applied for asylum in Russia.
Putin had said Snowden could stay in Russia on one condition.
"He must stop his work aimed at harming our American partners, as strange as that sounds coming from my lips," he told reporters after a gas exporters' conference in Moscow.
Putin said he suspected that Snowden would continue leaking information because "he feels himself to be a human rights activist."
"So he must choose a country of destination and go there," he said, speaking before the asylum request to Russia was reported. "Unfortunately, I don't know when this will happen."
Putin said Russia was not working with Snowden and had no intention of handing Snowden over to the United States.
"Russia has never given up anyone to anybody and does not plan to. And nobody ever gave anyone up to us," Putin said.
Putin's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, confirmed Snowden was still in the transit area of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport after flying in on June 23 from Hong Kong, and said he had not crossed through passport control onto Russian territory.
Reiterating comments by Putin, Peskov said Russia would not send the American back to the United States to face espionage charges for leaking details of secret U.S. government intelligence programs. He also said Russian intelligence had never worked with Snowden.
"Snowden is in the transit area of Sheremetyevo airport and has not crossed the Russian Federation's border [onto Russian soil] . . . Russia has never extradited anyone, is not extraditing anyone and will not extradite anyone," Peskov told reporters.
"Hypothetically Snowden could stay in the Russian Federation but on one condition — that he give up any intention to engage in any form of anti-American activities, activities that are harmful to the United States."
He said Snowden showed no sign of doing this and added: "After learning of Russian's position yesterday, voiced by President Putin . . . he abandoned his intention [of staying] and his request to be able to stay in Russia."
Ecuador's Correa said on Sunday that Snowden's fate was in Russia's hands because Ecuador could not consider the plea until he reached Ecuador or one of its embassies.
Shortly after Snowden fled the United States to Hong Kong in May, and long before he arrived in Russia, Putin suggested the surveillance methods he revealed were justified in fighting terrorism, if carried out lawfully.
Although Russia has sometimes exchanged captured spies with the United States, Putin suggested on Monday that this was not on the cards for Snowden. "As for Mr. Snowden, he is not our agent and he is not working with us," Putin said.
Obama, at a news conference in Tanzania, repeated that the United States was working through law enforcement channels to prod Russia to extradite Snowden.
Obama said there had been "high-level discussions with the Russians about trying to find a solution to the problem."
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