MOSCOW (Reuters) - Former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden’s father arrived in Moscow on Thursday to see his son, who was granted asylum in Russia after leaking details of government surveillance programs.
Speaking at Sheremetyevo airport, where his fugitive son was stranded for weeks this summer, Lon Snowden said he had no direct contact with Edward Snowden for months, but felt “extreme gratitude that my son is safe and secure and he’s free”.
The younger Snowden, 30, is wanted in the United States on espionage charges and Russia’s decision to grant him temporary asylum aggravated already tense relations between Moscow and Washington.
Russian authorities and the Russian lawyer who is assisting Snowden, Anatoly Kucherena, have not disclosed his location.
“I am his father, I love my son and I certainly hope I will have an opportunity to see my son,” Lon Snowden said. He told reporters he was “not sure my son will be returning to the U.S. again”.
Snowden’s revelations about the reach and methods of the U.S. National Security Agency, including the monitoring of vast volumes of Internet traffic and phone records, have upset U.S. allies from Germany to Brazil. They sparked an international furore, with admirers calling him a human rights champion and critics denouncing him as a traitor.
Lon Snowden said he did not know his son’s intentions, but believed he had not been involved in the publication of any information since he arrived in Russia and was “simply trying to remain healthy and safe”.
Directly from the airport, he and the lawyer drove to a state television studio to give an exclusive live interview, indicating the visit was under strong government control.
Kucherena expressed hope the former intelligence contractor would soon find a job in Russia - possibly in IT or the human rights sector - because he had largely run out of savings and was living modestly, mainly off donations.
He said the American was living under security and avoiding publicity because of the U.S. chase after him.
Kucherena later said father and son would meet on Thursday but that Lon Snowden would first have to travel “quite a number of kilometers”, echoing previous coy statements intended to keep people guessing about the younger Snowden’s location.
He said that Lon Snowden would be in Russia for a few days and “as he is here for the first time, I have prepared an entire program so that he can meet with his son and get more closely acquainted with our country,” state newswire Itar-Tass reported.
Snowden, who worked as a systems administrator at a U.S. National Security Agency facility in Hawaii, fled to Hong Kong in June and then flew to Moscow.
President Vladimir Putin rejected U.S. pleas to hand him over, but denied Russia had any role in Snowden’s disclosures or that its intelligence agencies were working with him in any way. He has used the case to accuse the United States of preaching to the world about rights and freedoms it does not uphold at home.
Additional reporting by Alessandra Prentice and Gabriela Baczynska; Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Mark Trevelyan