Snowden appeals for spy charge clemency

Fugitive leaker tells visiting German lawmaker he wants to testify to Congress about NSA surveillance

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BERLIN -- The United State refused Friday to show any leniency to fugitive leaker Edward Snowden, even as Secretary of State John Kerry conceded that eavesdropping on allies had happened on "automatic pilot" and went too far.

Mr. Snowden made his appeal for U.S. clemency in a letter released Friday by a German lawmaker who met with him in Moscow. In it, the 30-year-old American asked for international help to persuade the United States to drop spying charges against him and said he would like to testify before the U.S. Congress about the National Security Agency's surveillance activities.

Mr. Snowden also indicated that he would be willing to help German officials investigate alleged U.S. spying in Germany, said Hans-Christian Stroebele, a lawmaker with the opposition Green Party and the longest-serving member of the parliamentary committee that oversees German intelligence.

Mr. Stroebele met with Mr. Snowden for three hours Thursday, a week after explosive allegations that the NSA had monitored Chancellor Angela Merkel's cellphone prompted her to complain personally to President Barack Obama. The alleged spying has produced the most serious diplomatic tensions between the two allies since Germany opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

In his one-page typed letter, written in English and bearing signatures that Mr. Stroebele said were his own and Mr. Snowden's, the American complained that the U.S. government "continues to treat dissent as defection, and seeks to criminalize political speech with felony charges that provide no defense."

"However, speaking the truth is not a crime," he wrote. "I am confident that with the support of the international community, the government of the United States will abandon this harmful behavior."

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki would not respond directly to Mr. Snowden's appeal, but said the U.S. position "has not changed."

"Despite recent reports or recent pronouncements from Mr. Snowden, as we've stated many times before, he's accused of leaking classified information, faces felony charges here in the United States and we believe he should be returned as soon as possible, where he will be accorded full due process and protections applicable under U.S. law," Ms. Psaki said.

Mr. Snowden's father, Lon Snowden, who recently visited his son in Russia and continues to communicate with him, said in an interview Friday that his son will not travel to Germany to talk to authorities as long as the U.S. charges remain in place. "If they want to understand my son's position about Germany, read his letter. It's pretty clear. He is not going to Germany to testify as long as he is indicted by the United States and their position is what it is," the elder Mr. Snowden said, adding that his son would prefer to testify before Congress anyway.

"My son would love to come back to the United States, but I'm not sure it will be safe for him, even if all charges are dropped," Lon Snowden said. "My advice would be to stay in Russia and move on with his life, and that's what I believe he will do."

Mr. Stroebele said Edward Snowden appeared healthy and cheerful during their meeting at an undisclosed location in Moscow. The German television network ARD, which accompanied Mr. Stroebele, said the Germans were taken to the meeting by unidentified security officials under "strict secrecy."

Mr. Snowden "said that he would like most to lay the facts on the table before a committee of the U.S. Congress and explain them," said Mr. Stroebele, a critic of the NSA's alleged activities. He said Mr. Snowden "did not present himself to me as anti-American or anything like that -- quite the contrary."

Ms. Merkel this week sent German officials to Washington for talks on the spying issue. Germany's parliament also is expected to discuss the NSA's alleged spying Nov. 18.

Mr. Snowden's appeal came as Mr. Kerry conceded that because of modern technology, some NSA activities had gone too far and were carried out without the knowledge of Obama administration officials.

"The president and I have learned of some things that have been happening, in many ways on an automatic pilot, because the technology is there," he said Thursday, speaking in a video link to an open government conference in London.

"In some cases, some of these actions have reached too far, and we are going to try to make sure it doesn't happen in the future," Mr. Kerry said, adding that ongoing reviews of U.S. surveillance will ensure that technology is not being abused.

Mr. Snowden was granted a one-year asylum in Russia in August after being stuck at a Moscow airport for more than a month following his arrival from Hong Kong.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Mr. Snowden got asylum on condition that he wouldn't harm U.S. interests.

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