MOSCOW (AFP) – American intelligence leaker Edward Snowden is living under guard at a secret address in Russia and sometimes emerges in disguise, although he remains in such danger that even a family visit could jeopardize his security, his lawyer said Monday.
Snowden has avoided all contact with media since arriving in Russia on a flight from Hong Kong in June and his lawyer Anatoly Kucherena has become his unofficial spokesman.
“I am his only link with the outside world at the moment. Even his contacts with his parents are carried out through me,” Kucherena said in an interview published in Itogi weekly magazine.
Kucherena gave few details of how Snowden occupies his time, but said he is able to go out in disguise.
“He would walk past you and you wouldn’t recognise him,” he told Itogi. “It’s a question of clothes and small alterations to his appearance… He really does walk freely around on the streets.”
Snowden has also made quick progress in learning Russian, his lawyer said.
“He is an extremely fast learner as far as the Russian language is concerned,” Kucherena said in another interview that will air Monday on Kremlin-funded RT television.
“He only needs a few hours or days to learn the ropes and start speaking,” the lawyer said in comments dubbed into English.
Snowden spent more than a month in transit in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport before slipping out and has not made any public appearance.
The 30-year-old former CIA security analyst is wanted by the United States after revealing details of massive surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA) to the media.
While describing an isolated existence, Kucherena said Snowden did not regret his decision to give up his life in the United States.
“He’s not disappointed. He believes he did everything right,” he told RT.
Russian President Vladimir Putin this month called Snowden a “strange guy” in a television interview, saying he had “condemned himself to a rather difficult life.”
Kucherena, a high-profile lawyer who is an advisor to Putin, said he is working for free, as Snowden’s personal money is running low.
He said that his acquaintances also helped find Snowden a place to live.
Snowden’s father is expected to come, at which stage “the question of his future activities will be discussed at a family council,” Kucherena told RT.
“I can’t give you certain dates but soon he will come to Russia and meet with his son. There will be him and his mother and probably one of his grandparents.”
“Only after this meeting will things become clear about Edward’s future work and his life plans as a whole,” the lawyer told Itogi.
He warned however that a family visit could threaten Snowden’s safety, since U.S. intelligence could stalk his relatives to find his hideout.
“Snowden’s former colleagues could try to use the arrival of the parents to track down his location. I have definite information, which I can’t reveal now, which suggests the danger level is very high,” he told Itogi.
He was apparently referring to Snowden’s colleagues at the National Security Agency (NSA) where he worked as an IT contractor.
Asked if that included a threat to Snowden’s life, he told Itogi: “That, too. Of course it’s hard to say what could happen, but as long as the U.S. side retains its grievances against Snowden, nothing can be ruled out.”
“I don’t think he will be freely moving around any time soon,” he told RT. “Of course he can go to a restaurant or a coffee shop, but he has to assess the risks every time.”
Snowden has been paying his bodyguards from a private security firm, but that money is now running low, Kucherena said, and Snowden is now considering opening a bank account in order to use the funds collected by international wellwishers.