(This article originally appeared in BILD in German, you can read that here.)
In the three years since Edward Snowden landed in Moscow, his relationship with his hosts has been a source of much speculation and controversy. The American IT contractor, who worked for the CIA and NSA until he fled Hawaii with more than a million purloined secret files, has not left Russia since he arrived at Sheremetyevo airport on 23 June 2013, on a flight from Hong Kong.
Snowden landed in Moscow with the permission of the Russian government, whose representatives he met during his sojourn in Hong Kong that lasted more than three weeks. He became so friendly with them that he actually celebrated his 30th birthday at the Russian consulate!
On the run from prosecution in the USA, Snowden received asylum from Vladimir Putin. Although Snowden recently indicated he would like a pardon from President Barack Obama before he leaves office in January, there’s no indication that will happen. The White House only a month ago explained that it considers Snowden to be a criminal, so any pardon seems like a fantasy.
Then there is the messy question of Snowden’s ties with the Kremlin. To anybody acquainted with the world of espionage, particularly when it involves Russians, Snowden is a defector and his collaboration with Moscow’s security agencies is a sure thing – as I explained recently.
Experts on the Kremlin’s powerful intelligence apparatus, what Russians call the “special services,” have no doubt that collaboration is a matter of simple quid pro quo. Any Western intelligence official who receives sanctuary in Russia will share what he knows with his hosts: there is no choice in the matter.
Snowden and his representatives have insisted that he is no collaborator. The official story is that Snowden arrived in Moscow with none of the classified documents he stole from NSA, and he refused to share secrets with Russian intelligence. According to Wikileaks, which told Snowden to flee to Moscow, the defector was approached by Russian spies after his arrival in their country, but refused to spill secrets.
Since Wikileaks itself is now more or less openly a front for the Kremlin, with its head Julian Assange mouthing pro-Putin propaganda with increasing frequency, there’s no reason to take its claims about Snowden seriously – particularly given Assange’s admitted role in getting the American to Moscow in the first place.