Being shielded from the US and left alone was all he "could ask for" from Moscow, the whistleblower said
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has said he had to seek refuge in Russia after exhausting other options for obtaining protection from the US government after his exposure of the spy agency's illegal mass surveillance program.
Other nations either didn't want to cross Washington or were not confident they could stop Snowden from being kidnapped by a US "blackbag squad," he said in an interview with journalist Glenn Greenwald on Tuesday.
In June 2013, Snowden met with a group of journalists in Hong Kong to disclose the trove of classified materials that he took from the NSA. His plan was then to travel via Moscow to Cuba and later to a Latin American country, which would grant him political asylum.
"We had contacts, we had assurances [that] this would probably be our best bet," he recalled. Initially he hoped that some European nation, such as Germany or France, would shelter him, but "every diplomat that we talked to in Europe basically said this is not going to work, they're gonna cave."
By the time Snowden landed in the Russian capital, the US had revoked his passport, effectively trapping him in the airport lounge. While he was there, the US orchestrated the forced landing of a Bolivian government plane carrying then-President Evo Morales, who was returning home from Moscow. The US authorities suspected that Snowden was onboard.
"Even the Russians were shocked at the extremity of this conduct," Greenwald said, referring to a conversation he had with a Russian consul, who recognized his name when the journalist applied for a visa to visit Snowden in Moscow.
The whistleblower came to the conclusion that even if a more powerful nation were to welcome him, "you've got to travel over a lot of vassal states on the air path to get there."
"I was out of options. I applied for asylum in Russia. I was granted it and actually I've been left alone quite remarkably since then, which is all that I can ask for, given the circumstances," he suggested.
Snowden received Russian citizenship last year. This fact is often brought up by critics, who accuse him of disloyalty to his nation of birth, a notion that Greenwald said he wanted to address.
The talk was part of a special ten-year-anniversary reunion, which also featured filmmaker Laura Poitras. She and Greenwald were part of the inner circle that broke the surveillance story.