By Mark Hanrahan, NBC News
Edward Snowden says he is “not afraid” of being returned to the U.S. after NBC News reported that intelligence officials have information that Russia is considering turning him over as a “gift” to President Donald Trump.
The fugitive former intelligence contractor wrote on Twitter: “Days ago, I criticized the Russian government’s oppressive new ‘Big Brother’ law. Now, threatening rumors. But I won’t stop.”
He added: “I don’t know if the rumors are true. But I can tell you this: I am not afraid. There are things that must be said no matter the consequence.”
(Intel sources tell NBC News that offering Edward Snowden would be part of an ongoing Russian campaign to disrupt the American system, as they did during the election. Courtesy of NBC News and YouTube)
NBC’s report Friday cited a senior U.S. official who analyzed a series of highly sensitive intelligence reports detailing Russian deliberations and concluded that a Snowden handover is one of various ploys to “curry favor” with Trump.
A second source in the intelligence community confirmed the intelligence about the Russian conversations and noted it has been gathered since the inauguration.
Snowden has been on the run since 2013 when he leaked a huge cache of classified material that revealed the existence of a warrantless surveillance program, being run by U.S. intelligence agencies.
(Learn More. What does Russia get out of sending Snowden back? Courtesy of MSNBC via World News and YouTube)
He first sought sanctuary in Hong Kong, before flying to Russia, where he was granted asylum for a period of one year, subsequently extended to three.
In earlier tweet late Friday, Snowden said the NBC report was “irrefutable evidence that I never cooperated with Russian intel,” adding: “No country trades away spies, as the rest would fear they’re next.”
During the election campaign, then-candidate Trump described Snowden as a “traitor,” who deserves to be executed.
During the Obama presidency, Snowden was charged in his absence with offenses under the Espionage Act.
(Hear from Edward Snowden as HBO host John Oliver grills him, over the leaked NSA documents, and one point Snowden squirms during Oliver’s line of questioning from April 6, 2015. Courtesy of MSNBC and YouTube)
President Trump has said that he wants to improve relations between the U.S. and Russia, and has been criticized for what critics say is his downplaying of reports from U.S. intelligence agencies that Russian hackers interfered with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
His administration has also sought to fend off allegations that his campaign had inappropriate contacts with Russian officials.