BERLIN – The U.S. refused to show any leniency to fugitive leaker Edward Snowden on Friday, even as Secretary of State John Kerry conceded that eavesdropping on allies had happened on “automatic pilot” and went too far.
Snowden made his appeal for U.S. clemency in a letter released Friday by a German lawmaker who met with him in Moscow. In it, the 30-year-old American asked for international help to persuade the U.S. to drop spying charges against him and said he would like to testify before the U.S. Congress about the National Security Agency’s surveillance activities.
Snowden also indicated he would be willing to help German officials investigate alleged U.S. spying in Germany, said Hans-Christian Stroebele, a lawmaker with the opposition Green Party and a member of the parliamentary committee that oversees German intelligence.
Stroebele met with Snowden for three hours on Thursday, a week after explosive allegations that the NSA had monitored Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone prompted her to complain personally to President Barack Obama.
In his one-page typed letter, written in English and bearing signatures that Stroebele said were his own and Snowden’s, the American complained that the U.S. government “continues to treat dissent as defection, and seeks to criminalize political speech with felony charges that provide no defense.”
“However, speaking the truth is not a crime,” Snowden wrote. “I am confident that with the support of the international community, the government of the United States will abandon this harmful behavior.”
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki would not respond directly to Snowden’s appeal, but said the U.S. position “has not changed.”
“Despite recent reports or recent pronouncements from Mr. Snowden, as we’ve stated many times before, he’s accused of leaking classified information, faces felony charges here in the United States and we believe he should be returned as soon as possible, where he will be accorded full due process and protections applicable under U.S. law,” Psaki said.
Stroebele said Edward Snowden appeared healthy and cheerful during their meeting at an undisclosed location in Moscow.
Snowden “said that he would like most to lay the facts on the table before a committee of the U.S. Congress and explain them,” Stroebele said.
Snowden’s appeal came as Kerry conceded that because of modern technology, some NSA activities had gone too far and were carried out without the knowledge of Obama administration officials.
“The president and I have learned of some things that have been happening, in many ways on an automatic pilot, because the technology is there,” Kerry said Thursday, speaking in a video link to an open government conference in London.
“In some cases, some of these actions have reached too far and we are going to try to make sure it doesn’t happen in the future,” Kerry said, adding that ongoing reviews of U.S. surveillance will ensure that technology is not being abused.
Snowden was granted a one-year asylum in Russia in August after being stuck at a Moscow airport for more than a month following his arrival from Hong Kong.