Echoing a now eerily prophetic comment by Edward Snowden in December that "there could be some kind of deal - give this guy to me as a present," NBC News reports, citing US intelligence official sources, that Russia is considering turning over Edward Snowden as a "gift" to President Donald Trump - who has called the NSA leaker a "spy" and a "traitor" who deserves to be executed.
Message to Edward Snowden, you’re banned from @MissUniverse. Unless you want me to take you back home to face justice!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 21, 2013
In an interview streamed on Twitter in December, Snowden said being forced to return to the U.S. would be a human-rights violation but would also put to rest to accusations that he is a Russian spy.
"A lot of people have asked me: Is there going to be some kind of deal where Trump says, 'Hey look, give this guy to me as some kind of present'? Will I be sent back to the U.S., where I'll be facing a show trial?" Snowden said. "Is this going to happen? I don't know. Could it happen? Sure. Am I worried about it? Not really, because here's the thing: I am very comfortable with the decisions that I've made. I know I did the right thing."
Then a month ago, none other than Michael Morell (former CIA acting director and Clinton supporter and adamant anti-Trumper) suggested that Snowden would make “the perfect inauguration gift” for Donald Trump.
There are “a lot of reasons” that would “make sense” for Russia to take such a step, Morell wrote in his column in the Cipher Brief. The former CIA acting chief believes that “the Russian president needs a relationship with the incoming US president where the US overlooks Moscow’s anti-democratic activities at home and destabilizing activities abroad.”
Moreover, “gifting” Snowden could also become a good way “to poke his [Putin’s] finger in the eye of his adversary Barack Obama,” Morell added.
In addition, “this would give President Putin one of the things he desires the most – being seen at home and abroad as an equal of the US.”
To which Edward Snowden’s lawyer Anatoly Kucherena exclaimed:
“These statements coming from the former CIA head are stirring mixed feelings and can be seen only as a kind of utter nonsense, there is hardly any other way to put it,”
But now, as NBC News reports, according to a senior U.S. official who has analyzed a series of highly sensitive intelligence reports detailing Russian deliberations, a Snowden handover is one of various ploys to "curry favor" with Trump. A second source in the intelligence community confirms the intelligence about the Russian conversations and notes it has been gathered since the inauguration.
Snowden's ACLU lawyer, Ben Wizner, told NBC News they are unaware of any plans that would send him back to the United States.
"Team Snowden has received no such signals and has no new reason for concern," Wizner said.
Furthermore, Snowden's Russian lawyer told the state-run news agency last month that his client would like to return to the United States - with no criminal charges hanging over his head.
"We hope very much that the new U.S. president would show some weighted approach to the issue and make the one and only correct decision - to stop prosecution against Edward Snowden," Kucherena said.
Former deputy national security adviser Juan Zarate urged the Trump administration to be cautious in accepting any Snowden offer from Russian President Vladimir Putin. Again, seemingly based on pure speculation, Zarate tells NBC there is no way to predict if Putin will deliver Snowden — or when.
"I think this is one of those rare cases where the stakes are so high, the diplomatic implications so deep, that anything can happen," he said.
"So this could be a secret diplomatic deal made in the dead of night, or it could be a weeks-in-formation deal with lawyers on all sides," he said.
"I think at the end of the day, Moscow holds the cards here."
"For Russia, this would be a win-win. They've already extracted what they needed from Edward Snowden in terms of information and they've certainly used him to beat the United States over the head in terms of its surveillance and cyber activity," Zarate said.
"It would signal warmer relations and some desire for greater cooperation with the new administration, but it would also no doubt stoke controversies and cases in the U.S. around the role of surveillance, the role of the U.S. intelligence community, and the future of privacy and civil liberties in an American context.
"All of that would perhaps be music to the ears of Putin."
In light of the sources (or lack of them), NBC News is forced to admit that The White House had no comment, but the Justice Department told NBC News it would welcome the return of Snowden, who currently faces federal charges that carry a minimum of 30 years in prison. Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said talk about returning Snowden is "nonsense."
Finally, moments ago Snowden himself responded to the article in steide, tweeting that - if true - it would be evidence that contrary to repeat accusations and even a major Congressional report claiming otherwise, he had not worked with the Russians...
Finally: irrefutable evidence that I never cooperated with Russian intel. No country trades away spies, as the rest would fear they're next. https://t.co/YONqZ1gYqm
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) February 10, 2017
... followed moments by a Snowden retweet of a Katie Couric interview, explaining that he is "encouraged" by the possibility of being sent back to the US.
— Katie Couric (@katiecouric) February 10, 2017