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View Of Snowden's Exile Life As He Gets Whistle-Blower Award


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block. Yesterday, we saw the first image of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden since he was granted temporary asylum in Russia in August. He's shown in a photograph taken in Moscow getting an award for being a whistle-blower. Snowden has been charged in the U.S. under the Espionage Act for leaking a large volume of NSA documents.

The award Snowden received is called the Sam Adams Award for Integrity In Intelligence and it was given to him by a delegation of U.S. whistle-blowers, among them former NSA employee Thomas Drake. Like, Snowden, Drake was charged under the Espionage Act in 2010 for disclosing information on a surveillance program. Those charges were later dropped and Thomas Drake joins me from Moscow. Welcome to the program.

THOMAS DRAKE: Thanks for having me.

BLOCK: And Mr. Drake, what can you tell us about Edward Snowden's life in Russia?

DRAKE: Well, he's alive and well. He's adapting and adjusting to his new life. Obviously, he did not expect that he would be remaining here, but through the acts of the United States revoking his passport, he ended up applying for political asylum and it was granted by the Russian government for one year.

BLOCK: For one year. Did he give you any indication of what his plans would be after that one year of temporary asylum?

DRAKE: Well, as we understand, it could be extended for another several years, you know, a year at a time, but he is an asylee and he's protected under that legal status by international law and the Russian government is certainly protecting him under that status.

BLOCK: Can you tell us whether he is, in fact, living in Moscow?

DRAKE: I cannot say. He's certainly living in Russia at an undisclosed location. He seems to be doing quite well, very centered, very focused and he's certainly keeping up with all the domestic activities and proposed legislation, as well as all the responses and reactions to his disclosures over the past several months.

BLOCK: Did Edward Snowden express any regrets to you that the information that he disclosed may have been harmful in any way?

DRAKE: None whatsoever. He's made it very clear that none of the evidence that he's disclosed to date violates national security. It may violate the national interest of, you know, certain powers that be in Washington but not in terms of the public interest.

BLOCK: You mentioned that he's living in an undisclosed location. What is the concern there? What's the specific fear?

DRAKE: Well, I mean, one is that he's been granted, you know, political asylum by the Russian government and they want to ensure that they uphold their end of his legal status. It's also obvious that for his own safety and well being that there are those who would have a distinct interest in knowing where he lives.

BLOCK: Mr. Drake, do you see any irony in the fact that Edward Snowden has sought asylum in Russia, that you're giving him an award in Russia for being a whistle-blower in a country that has criminalized dissent, that has cracked down on free expression and on journalism?

DRAKE: Well, some would say there's an irony, but on the other hand, they had the courage to grant him legal asylee status under international law. He really was not planning on coming here on any permanent basis. It was simply to transit. There are very few countries in the world today, given the long reach of the United States, where you would have any security at all, and it turns out that one of them is Russia. You know, who would've thunk?

BLOCK: You know, Mr. Drake that there are a number of people who would say, Edward Snowden should do the right thing, should come home to the United States to face charges.

DRAKE: Yeah, I've heard that, you know, I've heard that that was the difference between him and me. I mean, I feel an extraordinary kinship with him. What he did was a magnificent act of civil disobedience. His legal status takes precedent and priority over any charges that the United States has levied against him. And it's clear that if he were to return at this time, you know, he would actually have to sacrifice his legal status as an asylee and, you know, face the extraordinary charges that have been already levied against him in public.

BLOCK: And why not do that?

DRAKE: Because he has a different status now.

BLOCK: But he could revoke that status. I mean, he could come back to the United States and face charges.

DRAKE: Look, you think you'd be - do you really, truly believe - if my example - remember, I faced 35 years in prison. I'm well aware, as he is well aware of what happened to me and others. He chose to escape the United States to have any chance at all of retaining his freedom and liberty.

BLOCK: Thomas Drake, thanks for talking with us.

DRAKE: Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: Thomas Drake, one of the former U.S. government workers turned whistle-blowers who met with Edward Snowden in Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.