By Andrew E. Kramer
MOSCOW – A day after President Barack Obama commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, the Russian government clarified on Wednesday the fate of Edward J. Snowden, the other main source of secrets about U.S. surveillance in recent years.
Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor who was granted asylum in Russia in 2013, will be allowed to remain in the country for “a couple more years,” Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, said on Facebook.
Snowden and his supporters have been campaigning for a pardon from Obama, but the chances of clemency appear to be vanishingly small given that his name did not appear on a list of pardons on Tuesday.
Zakharova described her Facebook post as a rejection of an idea presented in a recent article in The Cipher Brief by a former acting director of the CIA, Michael J. Morell. He suggested that Russia should extradite Snowden to the United States as a signal of good will to the incoming Trump administration.
Zakharova said that Morell’s suggestion of turning over Snowden would amount to “a gift” for the new U.S. leader. That is apparently a gesture that Russia is not prepared to make, however, even though President-elect Donald Trump has spoken admiringly of Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.
“The funniest thing is that the former deputy director of the C.I.A. !!! does not know that Snowden’s residence permit in Russia was just extended for a couple more years,” Zakharova wrote.
“And seriously, the essence of what the C.I.A. agent is suggesting is an ideology of betrayal,” she wrote. “You spoke, Mr. Morrell, and now it’s clear to everybody that in your office, it’s normal to bring gifts in the form of people, and to hand over those who seek defense.”
In an interview with The Guardian in September, Snowden argued that his revelations about government surveillance were not only morally right but that they also led to an overhaul of secrecy laws that benefited Americans.
“I think when people look at the calculations of benefit, it is clear that in the wake of 2013, the laws of our nation changed,” Snowden said. “Congress, the courts and the president all changed their policies as a result of these disclosures.”
Snowden is accused of violating the Espionage Act in the United States and would face at least 30 years in prison if convicted.
Some privacy advocates have lionized Snowden as a whistleblower, while his opponents and government officials have cast him as a defector, particularly in light of his flight to Russia.
Snowden has taken pains to portray his exile as comfortable. He spends time with his girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, according to posts on social media, and he recently took a break from posting on Twitter for what he described as a vacation, presumably in Russia.