In Depth

Edward Snowden joins Twitter with jokes aplenty

US whistleblower pokes fun at former bosses on micro-blogging site

Whistleblower Edward Snowden has joined Twitter, kicking off with humour aplenty.

The 32-year-old has already amassed nearly one million followers, but the only account he is following is that of his former employer, the US National Security Agency (NSA). In his first tweet, he posted: "Can you hear me now?" in an apparent dig at his former bosses.

The former US government contractor's Twitter page biography reads: "I used to work for the government. Now I work for the public."

Snowden is wanted by US authorities for leaking thousands of classified documents detailing Western espionage programmes. Since 2013 he has been hiding in Russia, where he was granted asylum. In the US he faces charges that could put him in prison for up to 30 years.

Poking fun at his own plight, he sent a subsequent tweet referring to the discovery of water on Mars, which read: "Do you think they check passports at the border? Asking for a friend."

Snowden then exchanged tweets with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson in which he joked that his work for the Freedom of the Press Foundation keeps him busy, "but I still find time for cat pictures".

In another tweet he wrote: "Hero, traitor - I'm just a citizen with a voice." 

He is indeed a divisive figure: some consider him deplorable for his leaks, but many others around the world see him as a heroic icon, and a champion of civil liberties.

His first high-profile Twitter critic was Republican candidate George Pataki, who wrote to Snowden: "Some say you have courage, I saw real courage on #Sept11 You are just a traitor who put American lives at risk." Pataki then called on Twitter to delete Snowden's account.

Snowden has previously responded to calls for him to return to the US by seeking assurances he would receive a fair trial. "The only thing they've said at this point was that they would not execute me," he said. "That's not quite the same thing as agreeing to a fair and open trial."

Edward Snowden 'negotiating a return to the US'

4 March

Edward Snowden is ready to return to the US, but only on the condition that he receives a "fair and impartial" trial, his Russian lawyer has said. 

"I won't keep it secret that he... wants to return back home," said lawyer Anatoly Kucherena."And we are doing everything possible now to solve this issue."

Snowden, who is charged with espionage for leaking top secret documents about the National Security Agency's surveillance programmes, is currently living and working in Moscow. His lawyer, who has links to the Kremlin, said he was negotiating with a group of US and German lawyers about the fugitive whistleblower's possible return home.

Snowden was granted asylum in Russia in 2013, a contentious move that further strained relations between Washington and the Kremlin. There have been continued calls from the US for Russia to extradite Snowden, particularly from Republicans who argue Obama has not put enough pressure on the Kremlin.

The US government says Snowden will be welcomed home, but only if he is willing to face charges for leaking state secrets. 

"It remains our position that Mr Snowden should return to the United States and face the charges filed against him. If he does, he will be accorded full due process and protections," US Justice Department spokesman Marc Raimondi told Reuters.

Last year, Snowden said he would be "willing" to go to prison, but not if it meant scaring off other whistleblowers from coming forward with information in the future. He said he was aware that he would not be covered by whistleblower protection laws and would not be allowed to mount a public interest defence against the charges.

Washington maintains that Snowden "is not a whistleblower" and there is "no question his actions have inflicted serious harm on our national security".

Edward Snowden: 'I would volunteer for prison'

13 August

Fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden has revealed that he still holds out hope of returning to the United States, even if it means living behind bars.

In an exclusive interview with Wired magazine, Snowden says he is "willing" to go to prison in the US, but not if it means scaring off other whistleblowers from coming forward.

"I told the government I'd volunteer for prison, as long as it served the right purpose," Snowden says in the article released today. "I care more about the country than what happens to me. But we can't allow the law to become a political weapon or agree to scare people away from standing up for their rights, no matter how good the deal. I'm not going to be part of that."

Snowden, who is charged with espionage in the US after leaking many of the National Security Agency's most guarded secrets, was recently granted asylum in Russia for three more years.

He appears on the front cover of September's Wired magazine wrapped in a US flag, three months after Secretary of State John Kerry branded him a "traitor" to his country.

Edward Snowden, photographed by Platon in Moscow, June 13, 2014. More exclusive photos @WIRED

— Patrick Witty (@patrickwitty) August 13, 2014

Writer James Bamford, a former NSA whistleblower himself, spent three days interviewing Snowden, the longest any journalist has been allowed to spend with him since he arrived in Russia last year.

Bamford says he was "astonished" at the access Snowden had. "I mean, he had access to material well beyond top secret. Way over most anybody's head at NSA," he says.

Snowden, now 31, reveals that he deliberately left a trail of "digital bread crumbs" designed to lead the agency directly to the files he had copied.  This was in order to prove that he was a whistleblower not a foreign spy and to allow the agency time to reduce any national security risks before the documents were published, he says.

But he believes the NSA has failed to pick up the clues he left. "I figured they would have a hard time," he says. "I didn't figure they would be completely incapable."

Edward Snowden: what next, as Russian visa expires?

01 Aug

Edward Snowden's year-long leave to remain in Russia has expired and he is currently waiting for a response from the Kremlin on whether or not he will be allowed to stay in the country.

Charged with espionage and on the run from his own government, what is likely to happen to the world's most famous whistleblower?

Will he stay in Russia? 

Most experts believe Russia is likely to renew Snowden's documents. For now, Russia is the "safest place that he can be" Jesselyn Radack, lawyer for another NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, told ABC news. "Russia has indicated that it intends to plan on allowing him to continue to stay", she said.

Why is Russia happy to let him stay? 

The simple answer is that Snowden is valuable political and intelligence asset with his inside knowledge of the NSA and other government agencies. "To a foreign intelligence service, Snowden is priceless", Robert Caruso, a former assistant command security manager in the Navy told Business Insider.

Even if Snowden does not co-operate with Russian intelligence, his very presence in the country "is of symbolic importance to Russia", according to political scientist Alexei Makarkin.

Would he ever return to the US voluntarily? 

"I never say never," intelligence expert Ken Gude told German newspaper Deutche Welle. "But I do think it's extremely unlikely that Snowden will return to the United States, at least under anything like the terms that he has proposed."

Snowden has requested immunity from prosecutions for all of his offences if he is return home. Earlier this year, Secretary of State John Kerry told Snowden to "man up" and return to the US to face justice for his crimes.

What about an extradition?

There have been continued calls for Russia to extradite Snowden, most notably from Republicans urging Barack Obama to exert more pressure on Putin to do so. US Congressman Charlie Dent has pushed for urgent extradition saying "the United States has been very much embarrassed and humiliated by these disclosures" adding that Snowden's leaks have put American service personnel across the world "in jeopardy".

Is there any chance of a negotiation? 

The NSA has previously said it is has "no interest" in negotiating with Snowden. But Gude suggests this could already be happening in secret as it is likely Snowden is still in possession of information which "could be valuable for him" from a bargaining perspective.

Earlier this year US attorney general, Eric Holder hinted at the chance of a deal being struck if Snowden were prepared to make a plea bargain.

Could he be pardoned? 

Snowden has said that a presidential pardon would be "the best resolution for the government, the public, and myself" but added that it was "unfortunately not possible".


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