Russia’s government this week formally rejected a request from Attorney General Eric Holder to extradite former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, despite a U.S. promise not to execute the NSA leaker.
A U.S. official confirmed that Moscow turned down the extradition request that was made in a July 23 letter from Holder to Russia’s minister of justice.
The official confirmed the rejection after reports were published in Russia’s state-controlled press Tuesday. The reports said Moscow would not turn over Snowden, who had been staying in a transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. He had been in the zone since June 23 after arriving from Hong Kong.
Snowden's lawyer Anatoly Kucherena said told reporters Thusday that Russian authorities had granted Snowden temporary asylum.
Andrew Ames, a spokesman for the Justice Department’s national security division, would neither confirm nor deny the Russian rejection of the extradition request, citing a policy of not discussing sensitive communications.
"We decline comment," he told the Washington Free Beacon.
However, the U.S. official said the letter from Russian Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov to Holder was received in the past several days.
A Russian government official told state-run Interfax on Tuesday that Russia had studied Holder’s letter and replied.
"Russia's position remains unchanged: U.S. citizen Edward Snowden cannot be extradited to the United States, because he has not crossed [the border] into Russia, and also because the two countries have no bilateral agreement on extradition," the official was quoted as saying.
Russia’s refusal to cooperate in returning Snowden is the latest in a series of U.S.-Russia incidents that has undermined the Obama administration’s conciliatory policies toward Moscow, dubbed the "reset" policy.
Declining to extradite Snowden could set up a snub of Russian President Vladimir Putin at an upcoming summit meeting.
Obama reportedly is set to cancel a meeting with Putin set for September over the Snowden affair, the New York Times reported in July.
The administration is seeking to resolve differences with Russia over missile defenses as a prelude for President Barack Obama’s plan for further cuts in U.S. nuclear forces to as low as 1,000 deployed strategic warheads. Iran’s nuclear program and the Syrian civil war also are said to be on the agenda for the two leaders’ meeting.
Meanwhile, a new disclosure from Snowden’s cache of classified NSA documents was made public on Wednesday.
Britain’s Guardian newspaper revealed that Snowden provided the "top-secret" NSA document on a program called "XKeyscore" that allows NSA analysts to search vast volumes of NSA data to find intelligence on terrorists.
The document dated February 2008 states that XKeyscore allows both email address searches and content searches while providing "real time target activity (tipping)."
"Performing full-take allows analysts to find targets that were previously unknown by mining the meta data," the term for general NSA-gathered information on telephone numbers and duration of calls.
The system uses about 150 locations and over 700 computer servers in the United States, Central and South America, Australia, Asia, Southwest Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
The document can be viewed at the Guardian website.
The newspaper said the disclosure was meant to back up earlier statements by Snowden that he and other intelligence analysts could "wiretap anyone" from an accountant to the president if his personal email were known.
Intelligence officials later denied analysts could carry out such surveillance without a court order.
Holder, in his letter, stated that Snowden was not prohibited from traveling outside Russia after his passport was revoked.
"He is eligible for a limited validity passport good for direct return to the United States," Holder said. "The United States is willing to immediately issue such a passport to Mr. Snowden."
Holder said Snowden sought asylum in Russia on grounds he would be executed if returned to face charges of disclosing classified information.
"The charges he faces do not carry that possibility and the United States would not seek the death penalty even if Mr. Snowden were charged with additional death penalty-eligible crimes," Holder said.
Holder also denied that Snowden would be tortured if returned to the United States.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told reporters in Moscow on Monday that computer technicians have not learned new information from Snowden.
"Our ‘techies' have not heard anything unexpected, but it was simply the naked truth which we had known in principle from other sources," Rogozin said. "It is the truth that makes us get a move on and speed up the work to create our own components and electronics."
Rogozin said Russian technical security was proficient enough to prevent any similar disclosure of Russian secrets by a low-level official with access to state secrets.
However, he warned, "Russia may become naked, however, if we wholly depend on imports of foreign equipment and foreign electronics. It is a very serious threat. Therefore the development of our own radio electronics, our own software is a matter of national security."
Asked if Snowden had revealed new secrets, Rogozin said, "we had long known what he laid bare."
"It concerns the power of cyber weapons," he said. "I would like to remind you that back at its anniversary summit in Strasbourg, the North Atlantic alliance [NATO] decided to abandon the term ‘cyber security' in favor of ‘cyber defense.’"
One of the documents reportedly disclosed by Snowden was the Presidential Policy Directive 20, a top-secret directive outlining policies on the use of cyber weapons by the United States.