30-year-old American Edward Snowden, a contract employee at the National Security Agency, is the whistleblower behind significant revelations that surfaced in June 2013 about the US government's top secret, extensive domestic surveillance programmes. Snowden flew to Hong Kong from Hawaii in May 2013, and supplied confidential US government documents to media outlets including the Guardian.
Edward Snowden's secret but 'not completely free' life in Russia
Russian intelligence service said to control the circumstances of NSA whistle-blower's life
On very rare occasions, almost always at night, Edward Snowden leaves his secret guarded residence, somewhere in Russia. He is always under close protection. He spends his days learning Russian and reading. He recently finished Crime and Punishment.
Accompanying him is Sarah Harrison, a British activist working with WikiLeaks. With far less attention, she appears to have found herself trapped in the same furtive limbo of temporary asylum that the Russian government granted Snowden three months ago: safe from prosecution, perhaps, but far from living freely, or at least openly.
Journalist Andrei Soldatov said the domestic security service clearly controlled the circumstances of Snowden's life now, even if not directly controlling him.
"He's actually surrounded by these people," said Soldatov.
Hints of his life nonetheless flitter in and out of the public eye. On Thursday, his lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, said Snowden had agreed to take a job with one of the country's major internet companies, beginning yesterday.
Snowden is calling for international help to persuade the US to drop the charges against him, according to a letter that a German lawmaker released yesterday after meeting the American in Moscow. Snowden said he would like to testify before the US Congress about National Security Agency surveillance, and may be willing to help German officials investigate alleged US spying in Germany too, Hans-Christian Stroebele, a lawmaker with Germany's opposition Greens, told a press conference.
But Snowden indicated in the letter that neither would happen unless the US dropped the charges against him.
In the one-page typed letter, written in English and bearing signatures that Stroebele said were his own and Snowden's, Snowden complained that the US government "continues to treat dissent as defection, and seeks to criminalise political speech with felony charges that provide no defence."
"I am confident that with the support of the international community, the government of the United States will abandon this harmful behaviour," Snowden wrote.
Kucherena said he would not be able to leave Russia to give evidence but could provide testimony inside the country.
"Snowden will not go to Germany. This is not possible because he has no right to cross Russian borders," he told the popular Echo Moscow radio station. But he added: "Within the framework of international agreements Snowden can give testimony in Russia but this should be decided by the German authorities."
At the same time, a news agency believed to have contacts within Russia's security services, Life News, published a photograph that it said showed Snowden on a cruise on the Moscow River.
"He's free, but he's not completely free," said Ray McGovern, a former CIA official and a member of the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence, which met with Snowden three weeks ago in his only verified public appearance since he received asylum on July 31. Even those who attended were not exactly sure where the meeting took place, having been driven in a van with darkened windows.
Those who have seen him in Russia say Snowden appears aware of the gravity of the situation he has created, but also at peace with his choice to disclose secrets.
Additional reporting by Associated Press