LONDON/MOSCOW (Reuters) - Former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden broke his silence on Monday for the first time since fleeing to Moscow to say he remains free to make new disclosures about U.S. spying activity.
In a letter to Ecuador seen by Reuters, Snowden said the United States was illegally persecuting him for revealing its electronic surveillance programme, PRISM, but made it clear he did not intend to be muzzled.
“I remain free and able to publish information that serves the public interest,” he said in an undated letter in Spanish sent to Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa.
“No matter how many more days my life contains, I remain dedicated to the fight for justice in this unequal world. If any of those days ahead realise a contribution to the common good, the world will have the principles of Ecuador to thank.”
Snowden’s intervention came after he had applied for political asylum in Russia. President Vladimir Putin had earlier said he was not welcome unless he stopped harming U.S. interests.
Believed to be holed up in the transit area of Moscow‘S Sheremetyevo airport, Snowden poured scorn on the U.S. government.
“While the public has cried out support of my shining a light on this secret system of injustice, the Government of the United States of America responded with an extrajudicial man-hunt costing me my family, my freedom to travel, and my right to live peacefully without fear of illegal aggression,” he wrote.
Wikileaks activist Sarah Harrison, who is travelling with Snowden, handed his asylum application to a consular official in the transit area at Sheremetyevo airport late on Sunday, Kim Shevchenko, a consul at the airport, told Reuters.
The Los Angeles Times, citing an unidentified Russian Foreign Ministry official, reported that Snowden had met Russian diplomats and given them a list of 15 countries where he wished to apply for asylum. Foreign Ministry and Kremlin officials declined immediate comment on the reports.
Putin, speaking eight days after Snowden landed in Moscow, repeated that Russia had no intention of handing him over to the United States, where he faces espionage charges.
“Russia has never given up anyone to anybody and does not plan to. And nobody ever gave anyone up to us,” Putin said.
For the second time in a week, Putin said Russian intelligence agencies were not working with the 30-year-old American.
“If he wants to stay here, there is one condition: He must stop his work aimed at harming our American partners, as strange as that sounds coming from my lips,” he told reporters after a gas exporters’ conference in Moscow.
But Putin said he suspected that Snowden would not stop leaking information, because “he feels himself to be a human rights activist”.
“So he must choose a country of destination and go there,” he said, speaking before the asylum request to Russia was reported. “Unfortunately, I don’t know when this will happen.”
Correa said on Sunday that Snowden’s fate was in Russia’s hands because Ecuador could not consider the plea until he reached Ecuador or one of its embassies.
Snowden, who has not been seen by reporters scouring the airport, has had his U.S. passport revoked and countries around the world are under U.S. pressure to deny him asylum.
A U.S. national security official said that, as far as the U.S. government knew, Snowden was still in the transit zone and would have a “hard time leaving” the airport if he wanted to.
When asked about speculation that Snowden might leave with one of the delegations to the conference, whose guests included the presidents of Venezuela and Bolivia, Putin said did not know of such plans.
Shortly after Snowden fled the United States to Hong Kong last month and long before he arrived in Russia, Putin suggested the surveillance methods he revealed were justified in fighting terrorism, if carried out lawfully.
Although Russia has sometimes exchanged captured spies with the United States, Putin suggested on Monday that this was not on the cards for Snowden. “As for Mr Snowden, he is not our agent and he is not working with us,” said Putin.
Obama, at a news conference in Tanzania dominated by the EU controversy, repeated that the United States was working through law enforcement channels to prod Russia to extradite Snowden.
Obama said there had been “high-level discussions with the Russians about trying to find a solution to the problem”.
Additional reporting by Lidia Kelly, Alissa de Carbonnel in Moscow, Mark Hosenball and David Ingram in Washington and Jeff Mason in Dar Es Salaam; Writing by Steve Gutterman and Andrew Osborn; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Ralph Boulton