(NBC News) — U.S. intelligence has collected information that Russia is considering turning over Edward Snowden as a “gift” to President Donald Trump — who has called the NSA leaker a “spy” and a “traitor” who deserves to be executed.
That’s according to a senior U.S. official who has analyzed a series of highly sensitive intelligence reports detailing Russian deliberations and who says a Snowden handover is one of various ploys to “curry favor” with Trump. A second source in the intelligence community confirms the intelligence about the Russian conversations and notes it has been gathered since the inauguration.
Snowden’s ACLU lawyer, Ben Wizner, told NBC News they are unaware of any plans that would send him back to the United States.
“Team Snowden has received no such signals and has no new reason for concern,” Wizner said.
Former deputy national security adviser Juan Zarate urged the Trump administration to be cautious in accepting any Snowden offer from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“For Russia, this would be a win-win. They’ve already extracted what they needed from Edward Snowden in terms of information and they’ve certainly used him to beat the United States over the head in terms of its surveillance and cyber activity,” Zarate said.
“It would signal warmer relations and some desire for greater cooperation with the new administration, but it would also no doubt stoke controversies and cases in the U.S. around the role of surveillance, the role of the U.S. intelligence community, and the future of privacy and civil liberties in an American context.
“All of that would perhaps be music to the ears of Putin.”
The White House had no comment, but the Justice Department told NBC News it would welcome the return of Snowden, who currently faces federal charges that carry a minimum of 30 years in prison. Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said talk about returning Snowden is “nonsense.”
If he were returned to American soil, Snowden — a divisive figure in America who is seen by some as a hero and others as treasonous — would face an administration that has condemned him in the strongest terms.
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