An unidentified senior U.S. official says Russia is considering handing over National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden as a "gift" to the U.S. to "curry favor" with President Donald Trump.
The official, who purportedly analyzed intelligence reports on Russia, told NBC News that Snowden is one of several ideas being considered; a second source confirmed these Russian conversations.
Ben Wizner, a lawyer with the ACLU representing Snowden, said: "Team Snowden has received no such signals and has no new reason for concern."
In response to the NBC News report, Snowden tweeted on Feb. 10: "Finally: irrefutable evidence that I never cooperated with Russian intel. No country trades away spies, as the rest would fear they're next."
Juan Zarate, national security advisory during the George W. Bush administration, told NBC News:
For Russia, this would be a win-win. They've already extracted what they needed from Edward Snowden in terms of information and they've certainly used him to beat the United States over the head in terms of its surveillance and cyber activity.
It would signal warmer relations and some desire for greater cooperation with the new administration, but it would also no doubt stoke controversies and cases in the U.S. around the role of surveillance, the role of the U.S. intelligence community, and the future of privacy and civil liberties in an American context. All of that would perhaps be music to the ears of Putin.
The U.S. Department of Justice said it wants Snowden returned, but Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the notion of turning over Snowden is "nonsense."
Snowden was charged under the Obama administration with violating the World War I-era Espionage Act, which is giving secrets to an enemy of the U.S.
Snowden exposed widespread spying on Americans and overseas by the U.S. government when he stole a trove of NSA documents and turned them over to journalists in 2013.
After leaking the documents, Snowden fled to Hong Kong. In an attempt to leave Hong Kong, where he faced extradition requests from U.S. authorities, he found himself stranded in the airport because the Obama administration canceled his passport, The Hill reports. It is unclear how Snowden ended up in Russia without a passport.
The Russian government subsequently granted him refuge; his residency permit is good until at least 2020, NBC News reports
Trump and CIA Director Mike Pompeo have, at different times, called for Snowden's execution.
In response to Trump's ban of travelers from seven Muslim majority countries on Jan. 29, Snowden tweeted: "I'm not against any President. I'm against policies that violate our Constitution. Want to make America great? Honor what made it that way."