Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked secret documents about the government's secret intelligence collection programs, has been granted permanent residency rights in Russia, the TASS news agency reported Thursday.
Snowden’s Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena told the state-run agency that his client was “given a permanent residence permit” but was not yet considering applying for a Russian passport.
In a separate interview with Reuters, Kucherena said that Snowden’s Russian residency permit was expiring “and we asked to extend it.”
He added that they submitted the documents in April and got the permanent residency rights on Thursday.
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Snowden is yet to acknowledge the report on social media. American officials were not immediately available for comment.
President Donald Trump said in August that he was considering a pardon for Snowden, who is facing espionage charges in the U.S.
Snowden keeps a low profile in Russia. He has praised the country's natural beauty and the warmth of its people, while occasionally using social media to criticize government policy.
Snowden hit the headlines in 2013 when he stole a trove of files about the NSA's bulk collection of phone and internet metadata and leaked those documents to journalists at The Guardian and The Washington Post. He later fled to Hong Kong, before moving on to Moscow where he has lived ever since.
He has previously defended his decision to make the files public, saying in interviews that he acted out of the belief that the spying program was illegal and immoral.
Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled the NSA program that Snowden exposed was unlawful and that the U.S. intelligence leaders who publicly defended it were not telling the truth.
The warrantless telephone dragnet that secretly collected millions of Americans’ telephone records violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and may well have been unconstitutional, the ruling said.
In a message posted to Twitter after the ruling, Snowden wrote: “I never imagined that I would live to see our courts condemn the NSA’s activities as unlawful and in the same ruling credit me for exposing them.”