MOSCOW — Four former U.S. government officials who met with former National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden said today that he is adjusting to life in Russia and expresses no regrets about leaking highly classified information. Separately, Snowden’s father arrived to see his son.
The Americans, who once worked for the CIA, FBI, Justice Department and NSA, have criticized the U.S. government and exposed what they believed was wrongdoing in the security agencies. All supporters of Snowden, they are the first Americans known to have met with him since he was granted asylum in Russia in August.
In interviews with The Associated Press, they described spending the previous evening with Snowden to present him with an award given annually by a group of retired national security officers.
“He spoke about going out and about and getting to understand Russia and its culture and the people,” said Thomas Drake, who started working for the NSA in 2001 and disclosed an electronic espionage program that he saw as invasive. “This is where he lives now, and so where you live is your home.”
Snowden’s father, Lon, did not say when or where he would meet his 30-year-old son, but expressed optimism about his situation.
“You know, I have heard so many things through the media, and my assumption is certainly, given the circumstances, he’s doing as well as could be expected,” Lon Snowden told the AP shortly after he arrived in Moscow. “He’s safe and he’s free, and that’s a good thing.”
The elder Snowden said he doubts his son will return to the United States, where he is charged with violating the Espionage Act for disclosing the NSA’s surveillance of phone and Internet usage around the world.
The four former U.S. officials refused to say where they met with Snowden or where he is living.
“For his own safety it’s best that no one else knows where he actually lives,” Drake said. “But I believe he is making the best of his circumstances and is living as normally as possible.”
Like Snowden, Drake was indicted under the Espionage Act, but the felony charges were dropped before trial and he was found guilty in 2011 on a lesser charge and sentenced to one year of probation and community service.
Drake and the other Americans — Raymond McGovern, Jesselyn Radack and Coleen Rowley — said Snowden was in good spirits and still believes he did the right thing in disclosing the NSA surveillance program.
All but McGovern are past recipients of the Sam Adams Award, named for a CIA analyst during the Vietnam War who accused the U.S. military of underestimating the strength of the enemy for political purposes. The award is given annually by the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence.
The winner of the award in 2010 was WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange.
McGovern, a 74-year-old retired CIA officer who had worked with Adams, said the anti-secrecy group had facilitated its trip to Moscow and that WikiLeaks staffer Sarah Harrison, who had arrived with Snowden from Hong Kong in June, remained by his side.
The Americans said they saw no evidence that Snowden was under the control of Russian security services, as many in the U.S. government believe.
“He spoke very openly about a whole range of things, a number of which I won’t get into here, but it certainly didn’t involve any kind of manipulation by the Russian government or anyone else for that matter,” said Radack, a former U.S. Justice Department adviser now with the Government Accountability Project. “He definitely is his own person and makes his own decisions, and says and does what he wants to.”
Radack, 42, had accused the FBI of misconduct in its handling of the case against John Walker Lindh, an American who fought with Taliban and was captured in 2001 during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. She later wrote a book about the case called “Traitor: The Whistleblower and the American Taliban.” The forward for the book was written by Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who worked with Snowden to publish his disclosures.
Rowley, who worked for the FBI from 1981 until retiring in 2004, testified to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in 2002 about intelligence failures ahead of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and systemic problems at the FBI. She was one of three whistleblowers chosen as persons of the year by Time magazine.
She called Snowden a “prime example” of the need to achieve security without violating the law.
“This is a false trade-off, that you have to sacrifice the law, the Constitution, human rights itself in order to somehow get this false sense of security,” Rowley said. “And he’s a prime example, so it’s very important to obviously compare notes and to talk to him.”