Will he be drafted? Former NSA contractor turned ‘whistleblower’, Edward Snowden, granted Russian citizenship by Vladimir Putin
Former NSA contractor turned whistleblower, Edward Snowden, has this week been granted Russian citizenship by President Vladimir Putin.
The Russian President issued the decree on Monday, and it comes after Snowden has lived in exile in Moscow ever since 2013. He reportedly has a job at a local IT firm there.
Snowden of course is still on the run from US authorities and faces arrest on criminal espionage charges. He was granted asylum in Russia, after he publicly released secret documents on the NSA’s mass surveillance programmes.
Snowden had been a staffer at Booz Allen Hamilton, doing contract work for the NSA in Hawaii until he took a leave of absence and travelled to Hong Kong in May 2013.
Shortly after that in June 2013 Edward Snowden revealed to the world the surveillance practices of the NSA, when he provided classified documents to The Guardian newspaper, Washington Post and others.
The Snowden revelations revealed top secret details about the NSA collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of the leading telecom operators in the United States.
But soon the true scope of US signals intelligence gathering was realised, after it emerged that the NSA could examine and mine all the ‘meta data’ of communications, i.e. the telephone numbers of both parties on a call, as well as location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls.
The publication of the documents caused no end of embarrassment to US authorities and its allies in the Five Eyes intelligence sharing group.
The authorisation to conduct the data gathering stemmed from the US Patriot Act, which was introduced after the September 2001 attacks on America.
Mass data gathering
Section 215 of that Act gave US government agencies (including the NSA) the authorisation to carry out the bulk collection of the meta data of all US telephone calls.
The NSA ended the bulk data collection program in 2015.
The US never forgave Snowden, and in September 2019, the US government filed a lawsuit against him in an effort to deny him payment from his book, Permanent Record.
In September 2020 the NSA’s bulk collection of US phone records – was ruled to be unlawful.
That ruling upheld the court’s prior ruling in 2015, that the NSA’s phone meta program, known as Prism, was illegal.
Snowden has been in Russia since 2013, after he was granted asylum in the country.
He was then granted temporary residency until October 2020, when he became a permanent resident.
And now this week Snowden has been granted full Russian citizenship.
His partner Lindsay joined Snowden in Russia in 2014, and in 2017 the two were married.
After years of separation from our parents, my wife and I have no desire to be separated from our SONS.
After two years of waiting and nearly ten years of exile, a little stability will make a difference for my family. I pray for privacy for them—and for us all. https://t.co/24NUK21TAo pic.twitter.com/qLfp47uzZ4
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) September 26, 2022
Snowden has a noteworthy background.
In May 2004 he enlisted in the US Army, but was discharged after he broke both his legs when he was in the Army Reserve as a Special Forces candidate.
He couldn’t complete the special forces training after he was injured, and was then discharged.
In 2006 Snowden joined the CIA as computer specialist, and then he worked for Dell as a NSA sun contractee, before joining Booz Allen Hamilton.
The Russian citizenship has lead some to speculate that Snowden could even be drafted into the Russian army, after Putin last week signed what he described as a “partial mobilisation” order to conscript soldiers for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
But conscription for Snowden is highly unlikely, as Snowden’s value to the Russians as a propaganda tool outweighs any military value.