NSA super-leaker Edward Snowden granted Russian citizenship

He always wanted to fight in the military – are his draft papers on the way?

Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor and self-described whistleblower, has been granted Russian citizenship.

On Monday, Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, issued a decree [PDF, not secure] naming Snowden (#53), among others, as being granted the boon of Russian citizenship.

Snowden had been an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton doing contract work for the NSA in Hawaii until he took a leave of absence and traveled to Hong Kong in May 2013. The following month, classified documents he provided to The Washington Post, The Guardian, and others formed the basis of news reports that revealed the vast scope of US signals intelligence gathering and forced the IT industry to rethink cloud and network security. Nearly a decade later, the implications of those revelations continue to shape IT security.

While Snowden's status as a whistleblower is disputed by the US government, the surveillance apparatus he exposed – the bulk collection of US phone records – was found to be unlawful.

Snowden has been living in Russia since 2013 when the US charged him with espionage and he flew from Hong Kong to Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport with the help of WikiLeaks and ended up stranded in Russia with a canceled passport. He was granted asylum in Russia and temporary residency until October 2020, when he became a permanent resident. He and his wife Lindsay reportedly applied for citizenship the following month.

The citizenship comes at an awkward time. Putin last week signed what he described as a "partial mobilization" order to conscript soldiers for Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The war has resulted in severe losses for the Russian military, which now needs to replenish its forces. Per its regulations, Russia can call up men and women between the ages of 18 and 60, even reportedly recruiting those in prison to fight.

The Russian callup is supposed to be for citizens with military training, which Snowden has. He enlisted in the US Army but was invalided out due to injuries suffered during special forces training.

Shortly after the start of Russia's war with Ukraine on February 24, 2022, University of Chicago political economist Konstantin Sonin estimated in March that at least 200,000 people had fled Russia to avoid the consequences of the conflict. With the recent mobilization order, an additional exodus of Russians fleeing conscription has been reported at border crossings into Georgia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and elsewhere.

Snowden is 39 years old, but there's no indication that Russian authorities intend to send him to fight in Ukraine. Reports suggest the mobilization order will disproportionately affect ethnic minorities in Russia. What's more, according to Kevin Rothrock, managing editor for Russia-focused Meduza in English, Snowden's attorney has said his client's lack of prior registration with the Russian military keeps him from being eligible. While Snowden was briefly enlisted in the US Army in 2004, Russian authorities presumably appreciate his political value more than his battlefield potential.

The Register asked Snowden to comment, but we've not heard back. ®

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