Edward Snowden's father says whistleblower may return to US if conditions are met

NSA whistleblower remains stranded at Moscow airport

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The Independent Online

The father of NSA leaker Edward Snowden has said that he believes his son would be willing to return to the US to face trial if the American government agreed to meet a number of conditions.

Lon Snowden, who maintains he has not been in contact with his son since he revealed the existence of a global American spy network, told NBC News today that he is sending a letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder outlining the potential steps to securing Edward’s surrender.

His son, who has travelled to Moscow in an attempt to evade prosecution on charges of espionage, would return if US authorities guaranteed they would not detain him before trial, not subject him to a gag order and allow him to choose where his trial is held, Mr Snowden Snr said.

He added that while it was true his son had broken the law, he was not a traitor.

"At this point I don't feel that he's committed treason," he said. "He has in fact broken US law, in a sense that he has released classified information."

Lon also voiced concern that his son was being exploited by Wikileaks, which offered legal assistance to the 30-year-old after founder Julian Assange intervened publicly in the case from the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

"I don't want to put him in peril, but I am concerned about those who surround him," he said. "I think Wikileaks, if you've looked at past history, you know, their focus isn't necessarily the constitution of the United States. It's simply to release as much information as possible."  

The Justice Department is yet to comment on the suggestion, which comes hours after the government of Ecuador renounced its trade agreements with the US.

In a strident attack on Washington’s attempt to “blackmail” the South American country into dropping its offer of asylum to Snowden, President Rafael Correa’s administration announced the country was to wave the Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA).

In a further slight, officials also offered a $23m (£16m) gift to American authorities to invest in human right’s training – a rebuke that has been interpreted as response to the US’ criticism of President Correa’s own human rights record.

"Ecuador does not accept pressure or threats from anyone, nor does it trade with principles or submit them to mercantile interests, however important those may be," said communications secretary Fernando Alvarado.

"Ecuador gives up, unilaterally and irrevocably, the said customs benefits."

The move has however been interpreted by some as political opportunism. According to reports, Republican members of the US Congress have vocally considered not renewing ATPA when it comes up for review in July unless Ecuador comply with an extradition request.

"The Ecuadorans got word that renewal of ATPA was a long shot in any case, so instead of waiting for rejection, they took the initiative and the high road," said Michael Shifter, of the Inter-American Dialogue.

"He appears to be weighing the political and public relations benefits against the real consequences for Ecuador's economy, should he grant the asylum request."

But some believe loss of the trade agreement, which includes an exclusion on import tax on thousands of products like roses and tuna, will have a significant impact on the Ecuadorian economy.

"This will have serious consequence for Ecuadorean producers," Ramiro Crespo, director general of a Quito-based financial consultancy, told The Guardian.

"These products which are exported to the United States have become major industries in Ecuador. If commerce is restricted there's going to be unemployment. This does not penalise the government, it penalises the people."

It remains to be seen whether Snowden, who left Hong Kong on a flight to Moscow on Sunday morning, will ever make it the country that famously offered Wikileaks founded Julian Assange asylum.

The Ecuadorian foreign minister announced via Twitter last week that the former intelligence officer had applied for safe passage but Betty Tola, the minister for political coordination, said yesterday that the request had not yet been processed.

"The petitioner is not in Ecuadorean territory as the law requires," she said, adding that Ecuador had not supplied any travel documents or diplomatic letters of support to Snowden.