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Edward Snowden Seeks 'Permanent Political Asylum'

Edward Snowden, seen during a video interview with <em>The Guardian</em>.
Glenn Greenwald/Laura Poitras
Edward Snowden, seen during a video interview with The Guardian.

Updated at 11:04 a.m.

Edward Snowden says "permanent political asylum" will give him the freedom to talk about U.S. surveillance programs.

The former contractor for the National Security Agency, who leaked a trove of information on the agency's vast surveillance operations, has written "an open letter to the people of Brazil" in which he says: "Until a country grants permanent political asylum, the U.S. government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak."

The letter was published by Folha de Sao Paulo and also on the Facebook page of David Miranda, the partner of columnist Glenn Greenwald, who was one of the first journalists to break the news of the Snowden leaks.

Snowden now lives in Russia, where he was granted temporary asylum until mid-2014.

In his letter, Snowden doesn't explicitly seek asylum in Brazil, but Folha de Sao Paulo, in a story accompanying the letter, reports that he doesn't have the freedom in Russia to "truly debate" the leaks.

"In Brazil, with permanent asylum status, he would have more liberty to do so," the newspaper says.

It adds: "Snowden takes care, in the letter, not to directly address [Brazilian President] Dilma [Rousseff]. The reason is to not offend the Russian government, who is currently hosting him. But, also according to Greenwald, he wants to come to Brazil."

But Greenwald, in an email to BuzzFeed says Snowden's letter has been "wildly misreported."

"Brazilian Senators and other officials have been asking him to participate in the criminal investigation in Brazil over U.S. surveillance, so he wrote an open letter to them and the people of Brazil explaining why he currently wasn't able," Greenwald said.

Indeed, in his letter, Snowden writes that the surveillance was "never about spying: they're about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They're about power."

"Many Brazilian senators agree, and have asked for my assistance with their investigations of suspected crimes against Brazilian citizens. I have expressed my willingness to assist wherever appropriate and lawful, but unfortunately the United States government has worked very hard to limit my ability to do so — going so far as to force down the Presidential Plane of Evo Morales to prevent me from traveling to Latin America! Until a country grants permanent political asylum, the US government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak."

Revelations that the NSA's surveillance targeted people across the world, and even the leaders of friendly nations, have embarrassed the U.S. government and strained relations with allies such as Brazil and Germany.

In the letter, Snowden outlines what he says are the NSA's activities in Brazil:

"Today, if you carry a cell phone in Sao Paolo, the NSA can and does keep track of your location: they do this 5 billion times a day to people around the world. When someone in Florianopolis visits a website, the NSA keeps a record of when it happened and what you did there. If a mother in Porto Alegre calls her son to wish him luck on his university exam, NSA can keep that call log for five years or more. They even keep track of who is having an affair or looking at pornography, in case they need to damage their target's reputation."

Folha de Sao Paulo reported that Greenwald, an American, and Miranda, who is Brazilian, plan to lead a campaign to grant Snowden asylum in Brazil. The couple lives in Brazil.

"If the Brazilian government thanks him for the revelations, it is only logical it protects him," Greenwald said, according to the newspaper.

Snowden's letter comes a day after a federal judge in Washington ruled that the NSA's program for bulk phone record collection violates Americans' reasonable expectation of privacy. As NPR's Carrie Johnson reported, the ruling has been stayed pending a likely appeal.

It also comes a day after the White House ruled out the possibility of amnesty for Snowden if he returns the documents he took. That speculation was sparked Sunday by comments from Rick Ledgett, the man in charge of the Snowden task force at the NSA, who told CBS News' 60 Minutes the possibility is "worth having a conversation about."

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Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.