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11 Jun, 2013 07:10

Russia ready to consider asylum for NSA whistleblower Snowden

Russia ready to consider asylum for NSA whistleblower Snowden

Russia is willing to consider granting political asylum for NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who blew the lid on the US PRISM program, Russian media reported. Snowden dropped out of sight Monday after he was last seen checking out of a Hong Kong hotel.

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“If we receive such a request, we will consider it,” Kommersant daily quoted President Vladimir Putin's press secretary Dmitry Peskov as saying.

Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, revealed the existence of PRISM, the National Security Agency’s (NSA) massive data-mining surveillance program which gave the agency backdoor access to emails, videos, chats, photos and search queries from nine worldwide tech giants.

The whistleblower disappeared after checking out of a Hong Kong hotel, Reuters quoted witnesses as saying. A day earlier Snowden revealed his identity to The Guardian newspaper.

The revelations of Edward Snowden have been condemned by senior US lawmakers, who threatened the whistleblower with prosecution. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on Monday called Snowden’s NSA leaks an “act of treason.”

Chairman of the House homeland security subcommittee Peter King stressed that if Edward Snowden is the leaker, then the US “must prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law and begin extradition proceedings at the earliest date."

On Monday, Regina Ip, formerly Hong Kong’s top official overseeing security, told reporters it would be in Snowden’s “best interest to leave Hong Kong,” citing an extradition treaty with the United States that was signed in 1996.

Visitors walk into The Mira Hotel, where 29-year-old former CIA employee Edward Snowden was reported to have checked out of on Monday, in Hong Kong June 10, 2013 (Reuters / Bobby Yip)

“He won’t find Hong Kong a safe harbor,” Ip said. “Those agreements have been in force for more than 10 years. If the US submits a request, we would act in accordance with the law.”

Iceland MP and privacy rights campaigner Birgitta Jonsdottir has offered Snowden assistance in getting asylum in the Nordic island state.

Snowden fled to Hong Kong on May 20. Before that he had been working with the NSA earning approximately $200,000 per year and living in Hawaii.

“I’m willing to sacrifice all that because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people all around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building,” he told The Guardian. “The greatest fear that I have regarding the outcome for America, of these disclosures, is that nothing will change.”

Snowden copied the last of the documents he planned to release three weeks ago, telling his bosses he needed time off to be treated for epilepsy. He has also said he has a girlfriend who was unaware of his plans to seek refuge in Hong Kong.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says he has been in contact with Edward Snowden, saying the NSA contractor was a prime example of what his organization is attempting to do.

“This organization and people like it and our values are forming a new body politic and people like Edward Snowden are part of that phenomena,” Assange said in a telephone interview with The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Emma Alberici on Monday from the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who revealed classified US surveillance programs leaked by Snowden, told AP that there will be more ‘significant information’ exposed in the near future. "We are going to have a lot more significant revelations that have not yet been heard over the next several weeks and months," Greenwald told AP.