NSA spy leaks: Snowden thanks Russia for asylum

Rossiya 24 TV footage of Edward Snowden leaving Moscow airport Grainy TV footage showed Mr Snowden, centre, leaving the airport

US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden has thanked Russia for granting him temporary asylum, allowing him to leave the Moscow airport where he has been holed up since June.

In a statement, Mr Snowden also accused the US government of showing "no respect" for international law.

The US has charged Mr Snowden with leaking details of its electronic surveillance programmes.

Washington has expressed its "extreme disappointment" at Russia's decision.

At the scene

For someone willing to disclose the dirty secrets of others, Edward Snowden is infuriatingly keen on keeping private.

That, at least, is a view of journalists, dozens of whom were patrolling the inside of Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport trying to get a glimpse of this famous fugitive.

Each hint of Snowden's possible appearance brought about a sea of cameras and a forest of microphone holders. Passions ran high, some cameras were trampled upon.

All in vain. Edward Snowden slipped away in a taxi, an unremarkable grey sedan.

That is, if we believe Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena, who has handled Mr Snowden's asylum in Russia. According to him, the ex-CIA contractor took the taxi to a location of his own choosing.

Many Russians find it improbable that the vast Russian security machine is content simply to see Mr Snowden go.

Then again, he's left the airport on Leningradskoe Shosse, a road notorious for its traffic jams.

Should Russian Federal Security Service change its mind, it can probably find Edward Snowden still stuck in traffic not far from the place which was his home for more than a month.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said they were considering whether a meeting between US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in September should go ahead.

The latest developments came amid fresh revelations from the cache of documents leaked by Mr Snowden.

Documents seen by the UK's Guardian newspaper appear to show the US government paid at least £100m ($150m) to the UK's GCHQ spy agency to secure access to and influence over Britain's intelligence gathering programmes.

'Pursued man'

Mr Snowden's lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, said the former CIA contractor had left Sheremetyevo Airport at about 14:00 local time (10:00 GMT) for an undisclosed destination.

Showing a photocopy of the document issued to his client, he described Mr Snowden as "the most pursued man on the planet".

Mr Kucherena said Mr Snowden was being looked after by a legal expert from the whistleblowing organisation Wikileaks.

Russia's Federal Migration Service later officially confirmed that Mr Snowden had been granted temporary asylum for one year, Interfax news agency reported.

In a statement issued on the Wikileaks website, Mr Snowden said: "Over the past eight weeks we have seen the Obama administration show no respect for international or domestic law, but in the end the law is winning.

"I thank the Russian Federation for granting me asylum in accordance with its laws and international obligations."

President Obama and President Putin had been scheduled to meet on the sidelines of a G20 summit in early September in Saint Petersburg.

However, Mr Carney said: "We're extremely disappointed that the Russian government would take this step despite our very clear and lawful requests in public and in private to have Mr Snowden expelled to the United States to face the charges against him.

"We're evaluating the utility of a summit in light of this and other issues."

Earlier, US Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, described Thursday's development as "a setback to US-Russia relations".

Snowden leaks timeline

Edward Snowden in Hong Kong, 6 June

"Edward Snowden is a fugitive who belongs in a United States courtroom, not a free man deserving of asylum in Russia," he said.

Republican Senator John McCain also issued a stinging rebuke, saying Russia's actions were "a disgrace and a deliberate effort to embarrass the United States".

"It is a slap in the face of all Americans. Now is the time to fundamentally rethink our relationship with Putin's Russia. We need to deal with the Russia that is, not the Russia we might wish for," he said.

Mr Putin has said previously that Mr Snowden could receive asylum in Russia on condition he stopped leaking US secrets.

The Russian president's foreign policy adviser, Yury Ushakov, said the situation was "rather insignificant" and should not influence relations with the US.

Information leaked by Mr Snowden first surfaced in the Guardian newspaper in early June.

It showed that the National Security Agency (NSA) was collecting the telephone records of tens of millions of Americans.

The systems analyst also disclosed that the NSA had tapped directly into the servers of nine internet firms including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo to track online communication in a surveillance programme known as Prism.

Prism was allegedly also used by Britain's electronic eavesdropping agency, GCHQ. The agency was further accused of sharing vast amounts of data with the NSA.

Allegations that the NSA had spied on its EU allies caused indignation in Europe.

A photocopy of the document given to Edward Snowden, shown by lawyer Anatoly Kucherena, 1 August Lawyer Anatoly Kucherena showed a photocopy of Mr Snowden's document

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