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Snowden's father: Edward is 'a whistleblower in the best sense'

Lon Snowden, Edward Snowden's father, in Moscow on Thursday. Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP

MOSCOW – In a sometimes rambling conversation that lasted more than an hour, Lon Snowden, the father of former National Security Agency intelligence analyst and fugitive from justice, Edward Snowden, sounded at times like a human rights activist, and at other times like a proud, loving father.

He said he looked forward to “getting information on my son’s physical and mental health,” but he’s grateful to the Russian government for keeping Edward safe.

Lon Snowden, a retired U.S. Coast Guard officer, spoke with NBC News Friday in Moscow by phone, as he waited for his Russian hosts to organize a visit with his son -- whom he’s had no direct contact with for months.

The elder Snowden arrived Thursday at the same Moscow airport his son had spent five weeks living in a transit zone before receiving temporary asylum in Russia. He said he was “pleased” with his trip so far. He had not met with any Russian government officials, but admitted that he was not in control of his meetings.

Lon Snowden said he planned to stay at least through next week and hoped to see his son “multiple times.” If things went well, he’d consider staying in Moscow for up to a month, he said. But he added that, while his focus is on Edward, he has other children back home in Pennsylvania who need their dad, too.

When he sees his son, Lon Snowden said he would advise him not to go to Latin America -- but rather stay put in Russia, where Edward can have a normal life. There have been rumors recently that the younger Snowden might move to Brazil, where Russians don’t need visas. 

He said that he’d like to see his son return to the United States someday, but that it’s still too early – and his son is still too “demonized” by the Obama administration and mainstream media – for him to get a fair trial at home.

“Ed’s role is effectively over,” his father told NBC News. “He whistleblew. Now he has nothing else to offer. He’s just a symbol and a threat to the U.S. government and certain corporations, and an inspiration to other potential whistle-blowers.”

Former CIA employee Edward Snowden during an exclusive interview with The Guardian newspaper's Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras in Hong Kong on June 10, 2013. The Guardian via EPA

He bristled over Friday’s New York Times story about a Central Intelligence Agency supervisor’s derogatory report in 2009, which suspected the young technician of hacking into unauthorized CIA computer files.

Lon Snowden called the report “bulls—t.” He said the “two unnamed senior American officials” cited in the article did not “send [Edward] home” from Geneva as the story stated.

“I brought my son home,” he claimed. “He was very ill – and overseas – at the time and needed to see a real doctor.” The CIA “derog” report on Edward Snowden was reportedly never passed on to the NSA, his future employer.

Lon Snowden also vigorously denied there is any tension between him and his fugitive son.

In August, Washington lawyer Mattie Fein – part of Lon Snowden’s legal team – told The Wall Street Journal the team didn't trust the whistleblower’s entourage: neither the Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has broken several controversial stories on U.S. and British government surveillance based on Snowden’s NSA leaks, nor WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy organization representing Snowden since his flight from justice began.

Shortly thereafter, The Huffington Post reported receiving an email from Edward Snowden stating that “neither my father, his lawyer Bruce Fein, nor his wife Mattie Fein, represent me in any way. None of them have been or are involved in my current situation.”

On Friday, Lon Snowden told NBC News that Fein's comments were “baseless,” and that he subsequently split with his legal team. He now has new counsel, he said, and his relationship with his son, Edward, is “stronger than ever.” He said he has had indirect contact with Edward through the American Civil Liberties Union, including an encrypted chat with him online.

Lon Snowden said he hopes Edward has no regrets, because he believes his son did the right thing, despite three federal charges against him, including one for espionage.

“He defended the Fourth Amendment and the right to privacy, protected by international law. I consider my son to be a whistleblower in the best sense of the term,” he said.

But would his son speak out, too?

“The day will come when Ed Snowden will speak,” Lon SNowden replied. But he added that his son has no desire to be a part of the story more than is absolutely necessary: “Ed is not looking for a book or a movie deal.”

Jim Maceda is an NBC News Foreign Correspondent based in London, currently on assignment in Moscow.

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