Edward Snowden is appealing to Russia’s local government for protection after receiving threats against his life, his lawyer said, just days after an online article quoted American defence officials as saying they "wanted him dead" or "would love to put a bullet in his head".
“He has no other option but to seek protection and ask for the situation to be cleared up,” Anatoly Kucherena told Bloomberg on Wednesday. “There are worries and alarm about statements and actions on the part of some officials.”
The report said Kucherena indicated that Snowden was receiving private protection.
The fugitive US intelligence leaker has feared for his life since reading of explicit threats against him by unnamed Pentagon officials in a Buzzfeed.com article titled "American Spies Want Edward Snowden Dead".
The article quoted one Pentagon official as saying: "I would love to put a bullet in his head."
"In a world where I would not be restricted from killing an American, I personally would go and kill him myself," an NSA analyst was further quoted.
"There are real threats to his life out there that actually do exist," Snowden's lawyer Anatoly Kucherena told Russia's state-run Vesti 24 news channel. "These statements call for physical retribution against Edward Snowden."
“Edward really believes his life and safety are at risk,” Kucherena said in the report. “Since he’s a temporary refugee, he has the same rights and responsibilities as any Russian citizen.”
A spokeswoman for US President Barack Obama’s National Security Council, however, said Snowden would be “afforded all due process and protections” in the United States, where he should return to “face charges” as he is “accused of a felony”, Bloomberg said.
In the same report, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf called the threats “inappropriate”, but also said that if Snowden returned to the US, he would receive the same legal protection afforded to other persons accused of crime.
Kucherena said, however, that they had not received any notice of any US charges against him.
Snowden first went to Hong Kong after leaking the documents early last year, then left the territory and triggered a scramble among journalists and officials to place his whereabouts. He then surfaced in Russia, where he was granted temporary asylum in August last year.
The granting of asylum infuriated the United States and was a key factor behind President Barack Obama's decision to cancel a summit with Russia's Vladimir Putin last year.
The 30-year-old has remained in hiding but is believed to be living in the Moscow area and learning Russian.
Kucherena said Snowden was constantly accompanied by security guards and was considering additional security measures.
"Edward is treating these as real threats to his life and well-being," he said.
Kucherena added that he planned to ask US authorities to look into the publications and possibly ask the media outlets to identify their sources by name.
"We think that the US government must take note of such statements," the lawyer said.
"The people who make extremist statements do so while wearing a mask - they do not reveal their identities.
"But we have specific publications that printed these interviews. We will ask for these people's masks to come off. We must know who this NSA officer is, who issues orders about ways to eliminate Edward Snowden."