In the shadows, Snowden tries to adapt to a new life in Russia
October 31, 2013 11:26 PM
By Steven Lee Myers / The New York Times
MOSCOW -- On very rare occasions, almost always at night, Edward Snowden leaves his secret, guarded residence somewhere in Russia. He is always under close protection. He spends his days learning the language and reading. He recently finished "Crime and Punishment."
Accompanying him is British activist Sarah Harrison, who works with WikiLeaks. With far less attention, she appears to have found herself trapped in the same furtive limbo of temporary asylum that the Russian government granted Mr. Snowden three months ago after he fled the United States after his disclosures of massive National Security Agency surveillance of phone calls, emails, text messages and other personal communications: safe from prosecution perhaps, but far from living freely or at least openly.
Journalist Andrei Soldatov, who has written extensively about the security services, said the FSB, the domestic successor to the Soviet-era intelligence service, clearly controlled the circumstances of Mr. Snowden's life now, protecting him and also circumscribing his activities, even if not directly controlling him. "He's actually surrounded by these people," said Mr. Soldatov, who, with Irina Borogan, wrote a history of the new Russian security services, "The New Nobility."
Hints of his life nonetheless flitter in and out of the public eye. On Thursday, his lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, said Mr. Snowden, 30, had agreed to take a job with one of the country's major Internet companies, beginning today. Mr. Kucherena would not disclose the company or any other details, and he declined to discuss Mr. Snowden's life in exile "because the level of threat from the U.S. government structures is still very high," he said in a phone interview.
At the same time, a news agency believed to have contacts within Russia's security services, Life News, published a photograph that it said showed Mr. Snowden -- wearing a white cap, without his glasses -- on a cruise on the Moscow River beside the Kremlin. The Cathedral of Christ the Savior served as a stunning backdrop.
A previous, far less convincing photo showed a man resembling him pushing a cart of groceries in what appeared to be a shopping center parking lot. A Life News spokeswoman said both pictures had been submitted through its website, and that the senders were paid 100,000 rubles, or slightly under $3,000.
Mr. Soldatov and others cautioned that the hints themselves could be attempts at misdirection or even propaganda, creating the impression of a happy, open asylum. The security services protecting Mr. Snowden, he said, might not even try to question him soon on what he knows -- perhaps the greatest worry of U.S. officials -- but rather simply let him live in such circumstances and become increasingly dependent on them.
"He's free, but he's not completely free," said former CIA official Ray McGovern, a member of the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence, which met with Mr. Snowden three weeks ago in his only verified public appearance since he received asylum July 31. Even those who attended were not exactly sure where the meeting took place, having been driven in a van with darkened windows.
The possibility that Mr. Snowden might work openly in Russia could not be verified, though the conditions of his asylum would allow it in theory, and some experts doubted the notion, given Mr. Snowden's evident desire to keep a low profile
On the day Russia's migration agency granted him a one-year temporary asylum, he was publicly offered a job by the founder of Russia's most prominent social network, VKontakte, who said his expertise would help protect the personal data of the site's users. Company spokesman Georgy Lubushkin declined to comment.