'Snowden believes he did everything right' - lawyer Anatoly Kucherena
Who pays for Snowden's security in Russia? Where is he living? Does he like it in Russia, has he made any friends? Why could nobody find him in Sheremetyevo Airport? Scores of questions have been surrounding Snowden's summer landing in Moscow, but the whistleblower is maintaining media silence. The only person known to have access to him is his lawyer Anatoly Kucherena. We decided the best way to figure out what's currently happening with Edward Snowden was to invite his counselor for a chat.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Anatoly, thank you very much for being with us on the program today. We’ve been waiting a long time to get at least some information about Snowden and his life. I know he doesn't give interviews and doesn't talk to the media. Why is that?
Anatoly Kucherena: At this point, it is his choice. You have to understand that he found himself in a very tough situation. His position may change over time but right now he is adapting to his new circumstances, studying Russian, reading Russian classics in English – because naturally he hasn't been able to master the language yet. So at this point that’s the choice he has made.
SS: So it's his personal choice? It’s not that somebody told him not to talk to the media?
AK: Of course not, trust me, it was his own choice — just like it was his choice to open the eyes of the world and reveal the truth about the US intelligence spying on Americans and other people around the world. It was his choice; it was his conviction that these methods were unacceptable.
SS: You probably know that some members of the European Parliament have nominated Snowden for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Now we are going to talk to one of those members who initiated this nomination—Christian Engström.
Christian, it's great to have you with us today. You're on of those who nominated Edward Snowden for the Sakharov Award for Freedom of Thought. How do you explain why?
Christian Engstrom: Edward Snowden is a real hero. He exposed what the NSA, the US surveillance service, has been doing. And what they've been doing is entirely inapropriate: spying on ordinary private individuals and ordinary companies – in the US, in Russia and everywhere. That's not apropriate. Edward Snowden exposed it. And he's a hero.
AK: I would like to thank you, I also consider Edward a hero. He is really a hero, because he didn't do it to make money, he did what he thought was right, so that we would understand what's going on and know the real story, not just what's been told to us about human rights.
SS: Thank you very much for doing this for Snowden.
CE: It is a pleasure, thank you.
SS: So we spoke to Christian Engstrom, a member of the European Parliament, one of those who nominated Snowden for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. But's let's come back to Russia.
Are you his only friend? Does he talk to anyone else here in Russia? Or are you the only person he talks to at this point?
AK: As for his communication with the outside world, yes, I am his main contact. As for friendships, of course, he has some people he’s close with.
SS: You mean in America?
AK: Both in America and here, because as I said - when we began to discuss where to place him and how to organize his life, his American friends were part of the decision-making process.
SS: American friends who live in Russia? Is his location kept secret for the media only? Or is it not disclosed to anyone?
AK: It is not disclosed to anyone. This was his request, because we understand that he is still in danger. It is not possible to disclose his location at this point.
SS: When you say “danger”, what kind of danger are you talking about?
AK: You have to understand that he is wanted by a major country, a superpower, the US government. We know that the capabilities that America has can pose a serious threat.
SS: Does he have a security detail now?
AK: Of course, he has security, so right now he is safe. But I don't think he would be freely moving around any time soon.It's his decision, of course. He got his temporary asylum papers, so he is free to go wherever he wants. He has the same rights and freedoms as all Russian citizens. So he decides what level of security he wants to maintain.
SS: But America will always want him, this won't change. So is he going to have a security detail and live at an undisclosed location forever? What can change in this respect? It's not like he will live this way for a month or two and then the US will say, "Ok, we don't need him anymore." So it looks like he will have to remain in hiding for as long as he stays in Russia...
AK: Of course, any person who dares to challenge a superpower has to realize that they will have to look over their shoulder for the rest of their lives. He can't just go to a night club or a restaurant like you and I, because you can tell the US government would very much like to get to him.
SS: Does he leave the house at all? Can he do that?
AK: Of course, he does. He goes out for a walk. He even travels. He learns things about our country.
SS: So he can’t go to a restaurant — but he can travel?
AK: No, what I meant is he can’t go to a restaurant any time he likes. Of course, he can go to a restaurant or a coffee shop, but he has to assess the risks every time, because the threat is still very real. It was real when he was in the airport transit zone, and it's real now. We hear and we know that he is still wanted by the US government.
SS: Do people recognize him on the street? He does not wear a mask when traveling, I assume, and his pictures have been on the front pages of newspapers and on TV for a long time.
AK: No, nobody has recognized him so far. He is careful.
SS: Good for him. Russia claims that Edward Snowden doesn't cooperate with Russian security services...
AK: No, he doesn't.
SS: ...but it is basically these services that protect him today.
AK: Why security services?
SS: Then who protects him?
AK: It is not necessarily security services that protect him.
SS: But who does? Is it some kind of a private firm?
AK: There are plenty of private security companies and he has friends who have lived in Russia for a long while and know the country well. I can't go into details on this subject...
SS: Just tell me who pays for these services? Does he pay his bodyguards out of his own pocket?
AK: I can only say that Edward has almost run out of money. Currently, we are working to set up a bank account for donations…
SS:So who pays his bodyguards?
AK: So far, he has been paying them himself from the money he had. But, like I said, he is almost out of money. So I'd like to thank everybody who helped raise the money, both in Europe and Russia.
His father is coming to Russia and his mother may be coming, too…
SS:Speaking of his father, people had been saying that Mr. Snowden would know what to do next after he is granted temporary asylum and meets with his father. So, why is his father still not here? Is there a problem with a visa?
AK: There is no problem. I have already sent an invitation. He has his own plans. We keep in touch almost daily. I can't give you certain dates but soon he will come to Russia and meet with his son. There will be him, Edward's mother and probably one of his grandparents.
Nobody actually understands what Mr. Snowden will do next. Let's listen to Vladimir Putin and what he had to say about it.
Sometimes I think about him, and he seems weird to me. He is a young person, just over 30. I don’t know what he’s thinking about. How is he going to live the rest of his life? Basically he doomed himself to a pretty difficult life. What will he do next? I can’t even imagine.
SS:How does Snowden answer this question himself? Is he disappointed that his leaks haven't become a sensation with the Russian authorities?
AK: Let's wait a little.
SS:What does that mean?
AK: I think he is going to have an interesting life and everything is going to be fine. He is a very gifted person. He is an extremely fast learner as far as the Russian language is concerned. For me, for example, language learning is challenging but he only needs a few hours or days to learn the ropes and start speaking.
SS:Do you guys talk in Russian to each other?
AK: No, we use an interpreter.
SS:But what exactly is he going to do here? Will he be able to work?
AK: At this point we only have a general understanding of the question and of Edward’s plans, so please, let's give it some time, let's not discuss it now.
SS:Alright, but technically, does his current status in Russia give him the right to work here?
AK: Sure, and he has this opportunity. Like I said, he has the same rights as Russian citizens have. So there is no problem with that. There are a lot of job opportunities for him and we keep receiving job offers by phone or mail.
SS:Are they coming from security services or from different organizations?
AK: Offers come from different organizations. There are even ordinary people who call and offer help as they are concerned about him settling in a new home, and we also have heads of big companies who offer him employment.
SS:Was there any particular offer that was surprising or made you laugh?
AK: Yes, we had a woman of about 50 years old who called and offered to adopt Mr. Snowden.
SS:Well, that would take care of his predicament!
AK: Yes, but he is 30 so this procedure would be complicated, but it was funny.
SS:Edward Snowden was granted political asylum on the condition that he stop leaking US-related files and doing harm to the US. But after he was granted asylum, new leaks were published by the American, British and Brazilian press. Wasn't that part of the original ultimatum?
AK: I've talked to Edward about that. The thing is, he had leaked those materials to the media before he came to Moscow. He transferred some of this information to the media during his stay in Hong Kong.
SS:Couldn't he maybe call them and stop them from publishing it?
AK: That's impossible. He did ask me for advice on that, but that's really impossible to do. Even if he gets some of the files back now, they will still keep a copy. So there was nothing we could do under such circumstances.
SS:Should we expect any new leaks?
AK: I think Edward will work as a human rights activist. And as a human right activist, it will be up to him to decide what to do. I can only say that he strongly believes that it is totally unacceptable to use the war on terror as an excuse for massive surveillance, intercepting private messages, tracking phone, etc. So I think he may voice some concerns about this in the future.
SS:So he does have some materials that haven’t been made public yet?
SS:I'm sure you heard a lot of people say that Snowden has nothing left anymore and no one cares about him and why did Russia get involved in this whole thing, it got nothing out of it...
AK: Of course. But it’s important for everyone, including your audience, to understand that Edward Snowden spent quite a few years working for the CIA.
SS:But he wasn't a very high-ranking CIA officer.
AK: This doesn't matter.
SS:So he had access to top secret files?
AK: He's a very professional expert. We haven’t fully realized yet the importance of his revelations. He is truly a very courageous person. Few people would risk doing something like that. Few would stand up and say: the US intelligence services spy on us and people around the world. Of course, we expected that something like this was going on. But he confirmed our suspicions.
SS:You were right in saying that few people at all would have the courage to act like Snowden did, given that he didn’t expect much. He actually said that his revelations might not change the world a lot. Let me quote from his interview to the Guardian: 'The greatest fear that I have regarding the outcome for America of these disclosures is that nothing will change... [People] won't be willing to take the risks necessary to stand up and fight to change things to force their representatives to actually take a stand in their interests.” And we can see his prediction coming true.
AK: I would disagree though. I've been recently talking a lot to human rights activists from other countries and I can say the people won't put up with that.
Edward has achieved an awful lot. We might not be aware of all the achievements, but the CIA and others...
SS:But what has he achieved? Security agencies are even more secretive now and they make sure their employees don’t blow a whistle on them.
AK: You are right, but I believe the funding of special operations by security agencies should be done publicly. I realize, of course, that outsiders may not be able to understand all the intricate details of their field work, but I strongly believe security agencies should be subject to public scrutiny. Unless that happens, the US will continue to spy on everyone.
SS:But is Snowden disappointed? Or did he expect this?
AK: No, he is not disappointed, he believes he did everything right - and I agree with him. There can be and should be no disappointment because, as I've already said, what the American security agencies do today is a blatant violation of universal and fundamental human rights. Some people say it’s okay for the US government to wiretap Americans. But they also wiretap foreign presidents, public figures, ordinary people! Whoever is responsible for that should be held accountable, both those directly involved in surveillance and government officials who authorized it. A lot depends on the US President. What Snowden did — the US President should have done that long time ago.
SS: Actually, the current president originally promised to close the program but ended up doing quite the opposite, pouring even more funds into upgrading all these intricate wiretapping and information storage devices.
AK: Yes, of course.
SS:One thing I really wonder about is why this airport saga dragged on for such a long time. Russia knew Snowden was in the transit area at Sheremetyevo Airport, and they had decided they would grant him asylum. Why couldn’t they do it straightaway?
AK: Actually, it took some time for Snowden to make up his mind as to how he would go about it. You see, initially he didn’t have any Russians he could talk to. You have to realize the kind of situation he was in when he arrived in Moscow from Hong Kong.
SS:Was that a spontaneous decision on his part to go to Russia?
AK: I think he may have had some plans related to Latin America. But I would like to focus on this part of the story. He came to Moscow, he was in the transit area, and while he was still on his way from Hong Kong, the US revoked his passport. So upon landing, he couldn’t even leave the transit area. They effectively locked him inside the airport.
SS:Immediately? That same day?
AK: I suppose they did it after he left Hong Kong. By the time he reached Moscow, his passport was no longer valid.
SS:Can provisional asylum that Russia granted him be transformed into citizenship?
AK: Well, not automatically. According to Russian laws, an individual can apply for citizenship having resided in Russia for five years.
SS:Is Snowden free to stay here for five years?
AK: Oh yes. His provisional asylum status is eligible for one year, but it can be extended.
SS:I’d like to show a scan of Snowden’s temporary residence permit.
AK: Yes, that’s it.
SS:Is that his only ID at the moment?
AK: Yes, that’s his substitute for a passport.
SS:And he travel around Russia with it, right?
AK: Yes, but only inside Russia. He can use it to buy railway and airline tickets.
SS:Has he received any offers of citizenship from other countries?
AK: As a matter of fact, going back to your question as to why it took so long – Edward applied for asylum to twenty-one governments. But it was legally wrong: by law, you can’t seek asylum in another country from inside Russia.
SS:But he was in the transit area, technically.
AK: That’s still Russian territory. He hadn’t passed through border control into the country.
SS:But wait, the Russian government has used this argument all along. It refused to extradite Snowden saying he’s in the transit area, and technically, that’s not Russia.
AK: Technically, yes, well… You know, we could go into legalisms, but I can tell you that the rules are pretty much the same in most countries.
SS:Tell me, how could it happen that he spent six weeks in the transit area – or so we’re told –and scores of reporters were in place looking for Snowden, but never got hold of him, not even a glimpse?
AK: Have you ever been there?
SS:Well, not me personally. But a dozen RT reporters stalked the area, buying tickets for various destinations hoping Snowden would be onboard. And besides our network, there were media people from all over the world.
AK: I met pretty much all of them, and they all said they couldn’t find him. Especially the Chinese.
SS:But where was he staying? Where did he do laundry, for example?
AK: Right there.
AK: At the capsule hotel. That’s a huge airport. The media didn’t go inside every room – that would be against the law.
SS:Well, first of all, the airport isn't that big. But there were also reporters who stayed at that capsule hotel for weeks on end, looking out for Snowden 24/7. He couldn’t spend six weeks inside his capsule, could he?
AK: But there’s more than one hotel.
SS:Did he move between hotels?
AK: Sheremetyevo is a huge, huge airport.
SS:It's really not that huge.
AK: It’s got Terminal F, Terminal E, Terminal D.
SS:So which one was Snowden in?… Where was he?
AK: We’ll put up a plaque there one day. And I’ll be sure to invite the press to capture the ceremony.
SS:That would certainly be a great idea. Going back to the extradition issue, President Putin said during the G20 summit that Russia can’t extradite Snowden because it doesn’t have an extradition agreement with the US
AK: There is no mutual legal assistance treaty, right.
SS:Right. Does that mean that, once the two countries sign such a treaty, we could extradite Snowden in exchange for, say, Viktor Bout?
AK: No we can’t.
AK: Russia couldn’t extradite Snowden even if it had this treaty with the US.
SS: So we're just being sly? And we don't really mean what we say about the extradition agreement with the US?
AK: He hasn’t committed any crimes in Russia. The US government says he has committed crimes in the US. To this, I respond, “Send us an official request, even though there’s no treaty. Send us an official request, as required by international law.” But we never received one to this day. We got a statement from the US Attorney General, saying Snowden is suspected of a number of crimes, but he won’t face death penalty. Excuse me, but it’s not up to the Attorney General to decide that: only the court can decide that.
We talk about human rights in the US. People admire this country's democracy. It is true, there are many good democratic institutions in the US. But at the same time, as we see from this letter, the Attorney General has this kind of power. He can come to a court and say, "Even if this crime requires capital punishment by law, let's not do that." This is absurd.
SS: What about Snowden himself? Does he hope to ever go back to the US or has he given up any hope?
AK: We haven't discussed this yet.
SS: You haven't discussed it, why? Because it's a painful issue for him? Or is it because he has no hope of ever going back?
AK: It's not painful. He does miss his parents very much. Of course, he was used to a certain way of life.
SS: What about his girlfriend? He had a girlfriend when he flew to Hong Kong. Did they break up?
AK: His girlfriend is in the States.
SS: Is she planning to come here with his parents?
AK: I don't know yet.
SS: Thank you very much for this interesting interview.