Storied NSA whistleblower turned cybersecurity activist has a new credential to add to his name: Russian citizen.
On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin granted the 39-year-old American whistleblower citizenship nearly 10 years after he blew the lid off the National Security Agency’s vast domestic and international spying apparatus according to Reuters. Those revelations set off an international manhunt for the former intelligence contractor which eventually landed him in Russia where he was granted asylum.
Snowden’s name reportedly appeared on a list of 72 foreign-born individuals granted citizenship by Putin. Neither Snowden nor Putin have publicly commented on the reported citizenship. The Kremlin did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.
U.S. authorities and at least two presidents have spent the better part of the past decade trying to return Snowden to the U.S. to face espionage trials. While his whistleblower revelations are viewed by many as some of the most consequential surveillance disclosures in U.S. history, multiple intelligence agencies and many conservative lawmakers argue those revelations hindered U.S. military and espionage operations.
Snowden has spent years vying, unsuccessfully, to obtain a presidential pardon, first from Barack Obama, and then later from Donald Trump. The whistleblower has repeatedly claimed he would return to the U.S. if he were guaranteed a fair trial in front of a jury. Though Snowden and many of his supporters maintain his NSA disclosures clearly benefited the public, the Espionage Act under which he’s charged reportedly prevents defendants from arguing their actions were made in the public interest. That legal dead end reportedly led Snowden to seek a presidential pardon.
“Yes, there are laws on the books that say one thing, but that is perhaps why the pardon power exists—or the exceptions, for the things that may seem unlawful in letters on a page but when we look at them morally, when we look at them ethically, when we look at the results, it seems these were necessary things, these were vital things,” Snowden said in 2016 according to The Guardian.
Those efforts were shot down by Obama, who incorrectly claimed he “can’t pardon somebody who hasn’t gone before a court and presented themselves.” Snowden in 2013 claimed the Obama administration blocked his efforts to obtain political asylum in the U.S.
Trump, on the other hand, vaguely signaled greater interest in Snowden’s case towards the end of his tenure, and in 2020 told The New York Post he was looking into the possibility of a pardon. “There are a lot of people that think that he is not being treated fairly,” Trump said.
Then again, seven years prior Trump referred to Snowden as a “terrible traitor,” deserving of the death penalty. President Biden has so far largely refrained from weighing in on Snowden’s case.
Snowden’s new Russian citizenship will likely make any of the whistleblower’s efforts to return to the U.S. all the more unlikely. The citizenship also comes as Russia’s knee deep in international sanctions and struggling to maintain its flailing war in Ukraine. Last week, Putin announced a “partial mobilization” of reservists that many observers saw as a precursor to military conscription. The president claimed that initial mobilization would only apply to citizens with past military experience. Though some wondered if those criteria now applied, Meduza’s Kevin Rothrock cited the whistleblower’s lawyer who reportedly said the recruitment would only legally apply to citizens with a military background in the Russian armed service.