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Putin signed the order granting Snowden, who has lived in Moscow since 2013 evading U.S. authorities, Russian citizenship on Monday, according to Reuters. Snowden previously received permanent residency to live in Russia in October 2020.
Snowden worked as a contractor for the National Security Agency in 2013 when he left his job at an NSA facility in Hawaii and flew to Hong Kong. From there, Snowden released thousands of documents on U.S. domestic surveillance programs and global security operations. While some have hailed Snowden’s actions, U.S. authorities have sought his extradition to prosecute him on charges of violating the Espionage Act.
Snowden was a systems administrator for the CIA before he moved into the private sector working for the contractors Dell and, later, Booz Allen Hamilton. While at Dell, Snowden began contract work for the NSA, working at a facility in Japan before moving to a facility in Hawaii. In early 2013, Snowden left Dell and went to work for Booz Allen, staying at the same Hawaii-based NSA facility.
In 2013, Snowden began downloading thousands of classified documents on U.S. and foreign intelligence operations. After leaving the U.S., Snowden began sharing his cache of documents with journalists who began reporting out some of its contents. Snowden’s supporters praised him as a whistleblower for revealing information on NSA domestic surveillance operations. Critics accused Snowden of irreparably harming U.S. national security and endangering American lives.
The Snowden leaks spurred then-President Barack Obama and Congress to take action at the time against what was seen as unconstitutional invasions of Americans’ privacy revealed in the Snowden leaks. Top U.S. officials took steps to stop an NSA program that was gathering and storing data on millions of Americans.
The House Intelligence Committee launched an investigation into the Snowden leaks in 2014 and published a 38-page report two years later highly critical of the former intelligence contractor. Snowden is “not a whistleblower,” the report said.
“Snowden caused tremendous damage to national security, and the vast majority of documents he stole have nothing to do with programs impacting individual privacy interests – they instead pertain to military, defense, and intelligence programs of great interest to America’s adversaries,” it continued.
Snowden moved to Russia and received asylum protections to hide out of reach of U.S. authorities. From Moscow, Snowden leads the Freedom of the Press Foundation that monitors “press freedom violations in the United States.”
While Snowden has criticized the treatment of journalists in the U.S., he has been silent on critiquing Russia’s own instances of restricting journalism and limiting transparency.
After receiving permanent residency in Russia in 2020, Snowden applied for Russian citizenship so he could hold the same citizenship as his son, who at the time was not yet born.