Yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin granted Russian citizenship to Edward Snowden, who has been living in Moscow since 2013. In October 2020, Snowden’s status in Russia changed from that of an asylee to that of a permanent resident. And at that time, his lawyers claimed that Snowden’s ongoing goal was to return to the United States and that he had no plans to seek citizenship. Time moves on and here we are almost two years later, and Snowden clearly changed his mind.

Snowden Becomes a Russian Citizen

Tass, the Russian News Agency noted that Snowden’s name appeared along those of others who were granted Russian citizenship on September 26, “Edward Joseph Snowden, born June 21, 1983 in the United States of America.”

Snowden joins the cadre of larger-than-life characters who have sought and received Russian citizenship, to include American actor Steven Seagal and French actor Gerard Depardieu. They however, are just that, characters, compared to Snowden who has no character and displayed his willingness to break trust with his birth country, the United States on a level few have achieved. His 2013 theft of some of the United States’ most sensitive secrets and his well-publicized escape, first to Hong Kong and then ultimately on to Moscow, made headlines for weeks.

The United States revoked his passport, but not his citizenship, and informed him that a temporary, single-use passport good only for travel to the United States from abroad, was his for the asking. Today’s actions have not closed that door, and his ability to travel abroad (from Russia) remains severely restricted due to the existence of U.S. arrest notices.

Not a Whistleblower

Snowden has and continues to play the “whistleblower” and “unsung patriot” card when the reality is he is a thief. He traded U.S. national security secrets for life in Russia. The Russian intelligence services know full well what they have in Snowden, a network admin who snowed his colleagues to give him their sign-in credentials ostensibly so that he may provide them network admin assistance. In other words , he hoodwinked them.

Snowden has no residual knowledge and certainly is devoid of any experience in policy or decision making from his time working with the NSA or CIA. Snowden’s access and value as a source of intelligence became nil once he handed over the data he stole to his Russian hosts. So why hasn’t he fallen down a flight of stairs or out a window? Because he continues to provide Russia a sliver of propaganda value as a thorn to occasionally thrust into the ribs of the United States. Though based on the commentary from the State Department yesterday, that thorn is losing its prick value.

U.S. Response – Could there be Karma Ahead?

At yesterday’s State Department press briefing, Ned Price, Department Spokesperson was asked about the change in Snowden’s citizenship and if that changed anything? Price commented wryly, “Our position has not changed. Mr. Snowden should return to the United States, where he should face justice as any other American citizen would. Perhaps the only thing that has changed is that, as a result of his Russian citizenship, apparently now he may well be conscripted to fight in Russia’s war in Ukraine.”

In response to a query as to whether Snowden’s having received Russian citizenship changed the equation, Price responded, “I’m not aware of any change in his American citizenship status. I’m not aware that anything has happened yet when it comes to that. Mr. Snowden is apparently now a Russian citizen, and again, that makes him subject to any Russian decrees that may come down, including the one we heard about last week (mobilization of Russian citizens) and that “as a Russian citizen, he would presumably be subject to Russian laws.”

What Price failed to mention is that Snowden still owes the United States more than $5.2 million which constitutes the royalties from his published book, “Permanent Record” which U.S. courts found in October 2020 violated multiple nondisclosure agreements between the United States and Snowden, as he had not submitted his manuscript to the appropriate offices within the NSA or CIA for pre-publication review. In addition, the court also socked him with forfeiture of the speaking fees he has been racking up for his speeches.

If there is karma in this world, we should next be reading about Snowden being conscripted, outfitted for Russian army life, and being issued his own bolt-action Mosin rifle.

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Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of