American spy fugitive Edward Snowden emerged from his hideout in the Moscow airport today to speak with international human rights groups, almost three weeks after he first disappeared inside the vast Russian facility, to say he plans to seek temporary asylum in Russia.
Human Rights Watch official Tanya Lokshina who was in the meeting, told ABC News Snowden is applying for asylum in Russia and asked the rights groups to petition Russian President Vladimir Putin to grant it to him. Putin previously said Snowden was welcome to stay in his country, but only as long as he stops linformation that "damages our U.S. partners."
Snowden said in the meeting that Putin's condition should not be a poblem. "No actions I take or plan are meant to harm the U.S.," Snowden reportedly said. "I want the U.S. to succeed." A Russian political scientist who was also in the meeting confirmed to reporters afterwards Snowden planned to seek asylum in Russia.
Lokshina said Snowden revealed he had received asylum offers from several South American nations, including Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador. Snowden said he accepts all offers and plans to eventually go to South America, as he didn't see Russia as a long-term option.
At the meeting, Snowden read a statement in which he said that his disclosure of secret NSA surveillance programs was an "act of political expression" against what he called "immoral" and "illegal" government actions.
"That moral decision to tell the public about spying that affects all of us has been costly, but it was the right thing to do and I have no regrets," the statement said, according to WikiLeaks.
Snowden said that alleged political pressure from Washington on other countries not to grant him safe passage "represents a threat to all of us, and must not be allowed to succeed."
At the White House today, Press Secretary Jay Carney acknowledged that the activists who attended the Snowden meeting did important work, but Carney did not count Snowden among them.
"Mr. Snowden is not a human rights activist or a dissident," Carney said. "He is accused of leaking classified information, has been charged with three felony counts and should be returned to the United States, where he will be accorded full due process."
Later, the White House released a statement about today's phone between President Obama and President Putin, briefly saying that the two leaders "discussed a range of national security and bilateral issues, including the status of Mr. Edward Snowden…"
State Department spokesperson Jan Psaki, called the meeting a propaganda show and said the department was disappointed in Russia for facilitating the event "despite the government's declarations of Russia's neutrality with respect to Mr. Snowden."
Dinah Pokempner, general counsel at Human Rights Watch, told ABC News that a U.S. embassy official described their position on Snowden to HRW official Tanya Lokshina and asked that Lokshina pass that message along to Snowden. Psaki confirmed that a call had been made, but denied any U.S. official asked anyone to pass along a message to Snowden.
Greenwald Says He's Not Halfway Done Revealing Snowden's Information
The meeting came a day after The Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald, who has worked with Snowden to report on the NSA programs, told ABC News that their work is not even half done.
"The majority of it remains to be done, and that includes stories that are at least as significant, if not more significant than the ones we've already done," Greenwald said.