Edward Snowden, the former U.S. intelligence contractor wanted for revealing the National Security Agency's secret program to collect American phone and internet records, left a Moscow airport Thursday after weeks waiting for his asylum request to be granted, his lawyer told Russian media outlets.
Attorney Anatoly Kucherena appeared on Russian television and said Snowden had been granted asylum in Russia for one year, showing a scanned copy of an official document to media. Snowden was in a safe place, according to Kucherena, who said he would not reveal the location for security reasons.
Snowden left Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport at around 7:30 a.m. Eastern according to the lawyer, who said he had personally handed him the necessary documents on Thursday morning. Snowden had been stuck in the airport's transit zone since arriving from Hong Kong on June 23.
CBS News Moscow bureau chief Svetlana Berdnikova said Snowden left the airport in a taxi, avoiding the media on his way out. Kucherena said Wednesday he was going to help the NSA leaker's father, Lon Snowden, get a visa to travel to Russia and see his son.
In separate interviews broadcast on Wednesday, Lon Snowden praised Russian leader Vladimir Putin for protecting his son, who has been labeled a traitor by many politicians in the United States for revealing the top-secret data-monitoring program. The elder Snowden said he hoped to visit Russia to see his son.
President Obama and other American officials have urged Russia to hand Snowden over, but there is no formal extradition treaty between the two nations. Putin had essentially punted the issue, saying Snowden was a free man who came to Russia without warning and suggesting his immigration status would be decided by the Federal Migration Service (FMS) based on his asylum request.
According to Russian immigration law, with asylum now granted, Snowden has the same rights as any other citizen of the Russian Federation. It has been widely reported by Russian media that the documentation from the FMS would allow Snowden to move freely within the country's borders, but it remained unclear Thursday whether the papers could serve as travel documents. The U.S. government has cancelled Snowden's passport.
Secret-spilling website WikiLeaks, which has rallied to Snowden's support and provided legal assistance to him for weeks, said in a volley of tweets on Thursday that he left the airport "in the care of" the organization's representative, Sarah Harrison.
"Snowden's welfare has been continuously monitored by WikiLeaks staff since his presence in Hong Kong," the group said in another tweet.
Prior to Russia' decision to grant Snowden asylum, three Latin American nations said he would also be protected within their borders -- if he could get there. Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia all extended offers of asylum, but without travel documents it was never clear how he might actually reach their soil.
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