WASHINGTON – The father of NSA leaker Edward Snowden acknowledged Friday that his son broke the law but said he doesn’t think he committed treason, as the Obama administration renewed its calls to Russia to expel Snowden so he can be tried under the Espionage Act.
Meanwhile, Ecuadorean officials say Russian authorities have stymied the country’s efforts to approve a political asylum application from the former National Security Agency systems analyst, according to government officials with direct knowledge of the case.
In conceding his son’s guilt, Snowden’s father, Lonnie Snowden, told NBC’s “Today” show that his lawyer had informed Attorney General Eric Holder that he believes his son would voluntarily return to the United States if the Justice Department promises not to hold him before trial and not subject him to a gag order.
“If folks want to classify him as a traitor, in fact, he has betrayed his government. But I don’t believe that he’s betrayed the people of the United States,” Lonnie Snowden said.
The elder Snowden hasn’t spoken to his son since April, but he said he believes he’s being manipulated by people at WikiLeaks. The anti-secrecy group has been trying to help Edward Snowden gain asylum.
“I don’t want to put him in peril, but I am concerned about those who surround him,” Lonnie Snowden said. “I think WikiLeaks, if you’ve looked at past history, you know, their focus isn’t necessarily the Constitution of the United States. It’s simply to release as much information as possible.”
U.S. officials said their outreach to Russia, Ecuador and other countries where Snowden might travel to or seek refuge is ongoing.
“We’re advising governments that Mr. Snowden is wanted on felony charges and should not be allowed to proceed any further, other than necessary to return to the United States,” State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters.
Ecuadorean officials have said publicly they cannot start considering Snowden’s asylum request until he arrives either in Ecuador or in an Ecuadorean embassy.
Two government officials with direct knowledge of the negotiations said Ecuador had been making detailed plans to receive and host Snowden. One of the officials said those plans had been thwarted by Russia’s refusal to let Snowden leave or be picked up by Ecuadorean officials.