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Snowden's father pleased with son's Moscow life

By Phil Black and Tom Watkins, CNN
October 16, 2013 -- Updated 1847 GMT (0247 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "This is the best place for him," Lon Snowden says of his son, Edward
  • Russia's asylum could be easily extended, father says
  • Feds have charged Edward Snowden with espionage, theft of government property

Moscow (CNN) -- Edward Snowden's father expressed satisfaction Wednesday with the way his son, the former National Security Agency contractor, has been treated since being granted asylum in August.

Lon Snowden spoke to reporters at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport as he prepared to return to the United States after a six-day visit, his first reunion with his son since April.

"I felt that this is the best place for him, this is the place where he doesn't have to worry about people rushing across the border to render him," Lon Snowden said. "It's not going to happen here."

It may not be his last visit, since his son -- charged in the United States for revealing a massive government surveillance campaign -- may wind up remaining in Russia for years.

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"My feeling is that, unless the attitude within our government changes dramatically -- and that at a minimum is going to require a change of administration and that's going to be in several years -- that Russia is the place for him to be at the current time."

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Though Russia granted Edward Snowden a one-year asylum, "that could easily be extended," said his father, who described Moscow as modern and sophisticated. "I could be comfortable living the rest of my life here; I'm certain that he could."

The elder Snowden, who arrived October 10 in Moscow, said the two visited several times. "He is comfortable, he is independent, he is happy -- which is important to me -- and he is absolutely committed to the decision that he made."

Lon Snowden said his son told him he had had no contact with Russian security or intelligence.

He added that he did not know where his son was living. "I don't have an idea."

Edward Snowden, a 30-year-old former government IT contractor, collected information on spy programs -- in which the National Security Agency mined phone and Internet metadata from thousands of people inside and outside of the United States -- and exposed the program to the media.

Anticipating legal consequences, he fled to Hong Kong in late May and flew on June 23 to Moscow, where he holed up at the airport for more than five weeks.

U.S. authorities have charged him with espionage and theft of government property.

After Russia granted him asylum on August 1, he left the airport.

Snowden's father: 'I know my son. I know he loves his country.'

Lon Snowden described his son as healthy and happy, with "a very substantial" international support network.

He accused the news media of mischaracterizing what his son did.

"So many people are so determined in the media to continue to refer to him as a leaker," Lon Snowden said. "In fact, he's a whistle-blower, by definition."

He said attempts have been made to demonize his son, but defended him. "He is someone who shared the truth; he has enraged many politicians. Not only has he enraged them, he has put their political careers at risk, as they should be. People who were in positions of responsibility, of oversight."

The reunion came after times when Lon Snowden said he had not expected to see his son ever again.

"I hugged him; it was, 'I love you son,' 'I love you, Dad.' But we hugged a little longer, a little harder, and it was certainly -- it was an important moment."

Book deals have been dangled that could make his son a rich man, but "that is not what Edward Snowden wants to do," his father said.

Though Edward Snowden revealed the surveillance with the assumption that he would accept the consequences, that does not mean he regrets having fled the United States, nor does it mean he plans to return to face charges there, Lon Snowden said. "That is absolutely absurd," he said. "Nobody questions the decision that he has made, because he would be locked in a dark hole at this point, which certain people would love."

Phil Black reported the story in Moscow; Tom Watkins wrote it in Atlanta

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