Former U.S. spy agency contractor EdwardSnowden might voluntarily return to the United States if given assurances of his constitutional rights, his father said in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder.
Lonnie Snowden was “reasonably confident” his son, who faces espionage charges in the United States for alleged leaking of secret surveillance information, would return if certain conditions were met, the June 27 letter said. It was written by a lawyer on Snowden’s behalf, and was obtained by Reuters.
The younger Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency, should not be detained or imprisoned before trial, should not be subject to a gag order, and should be tried in a venue of his choosing, the letter said.
Edward Snowden, a U.S. citizen, fled the United States to Hong Kong in May, a few weeks before publication in the Guardian and the Washington Post of details he said he provided about U.S. government surveillance of Internet and phone traffic.
He has not been seen since he arrived in Moscow on Sunday, but Russian officials said he was in a transit area at Sheremetyevo airport. He has requested political asylum in Ecuador.
Representatives for the Justice Department could not be reached immediately for comment on the letter.
Lonnie Snowden said he was concerned that his son was being manipulated by others, including people from the anti-government secrecy group WikiLeaks, he said in an interview on NBC television earlier on Friday.
“I am concerned about those who surround him,” he told NBC. “Wikileaks – if you look at past history – their focus isn’t necessarily the Constitution of the United States. It’s simply to release as much information as possible. So that alone is a concern for me.”
Snowden’s father said he has not had contact with his son since April, NBC reported.
“I love him. I would like to have the opportunity to communicate with him. I don’t want to put him in peril,” he said in the interview.
Snowden said he did not think his son had committed treason, even though he said Edward Snowden broke U.S. laws in releasing details about the federal monitoring programs.
“He has betrayed his government, but I don’t believe that he’s betrayed the people of the United States,” he said.
US senators want public answers on government surveillance
More than a quarter of the Senate’s members asked the top U.S. intelligence official on Friday to release more information on the government’s bulk collection of data on Americans’ communications.
Led by Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who has long hinted at the broad scope of the classified surveillance, the group of 21 Democrats, four Republicans and one independent sent a letter to James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, requesting public answers to a series of questions about how the data is collected and used.
Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden faces espionage charges in the United States for taking records about secret U.S. surveillance of Internet and phone traffic and releasing them to the Guardian and The Washington Post.
Snowden, who has requested political asylum in Ecuador, has not been seen since he arrived in Moscow on Sunday. Russian officials said he was in a transit area at Sheremetyevo airport.
The release of the material has prompted a firestorm of concerns about the extent of government data tracking as well as questions about lawmakers’ role in approving the legislation that allowed the data collection.
Critics of the surveillance programs see them as infringing on Americans’ privacy rights, while backers said they are important tools for national security and subject to close control by the courts.
The senators said the purpose of their letter was to foster debate.
“Reliance on secret law to conduct domestic surveillance activities raises serious civil liberty concerns and all but removes the public from an informed national security and civil liberty debate,” the senators said.
In the letter they said it was “regrettable” that information on the programs came through a leak to the media instead of from the Obama administration, “but we appreciate the comments that the president has made welcoming debate on this topic.”
Among other things, the letter asked for answers about how long the National Security Agency has been engaged in bulk collection of communications records and whether there have been violations of court orders pertaining to the records.
It also sought examples in which useful intelligence was gained from the records and asked if there were plans to collect other forms of information under the Patriot Act, which was enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.