The Russian government said Monday evening that it would consider offering NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden asylum if he sends a proper request to the Kremlin.
“If we receive such a request, we will consider it,” Dmitri Peskov, Russian President Vladimir’s spokesperson, told Russian-language publication Kommersant.
Snowden, 29, is the former intelligence consultant who informed the Guardian and The Washington Post about the government’s secret and wide-ranging domestic surveillance operation.
A former Booze Allen Hamilton contractor who used to work for the NSA, his first bombshell was published by The Guardian last week Tuesday – a report revealing the agency’s court-ordered routine collection of domestic phone call metadata through Verizon.
The Wall Street Journal confirmed that the agency was also routinely collecting the same type of information from AT&T and Sprint, Internet service providers, as well as information about credit card transactions. The Week reported that as many as 50 companies shared data with the National Security Agency.
All companies named have either denied the allegations, or refused to comment.
When Snowden revealed his identity Sunday, it was also reported that he had been hiding out in a hotel in Hong Kong, but was seeking asylum in Iceland. He checked out of the hotel hours after he went public, and is presumed to be still hiding in Hong Kong.
Snowden, whose leak may turn out to be the most consequential since the Pentagon Papers in 1971, has been called a traitor by top U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Snowden is also being hailed as a national hero by others, with a petition started on the White House demanding his pardon.
The petition exceeded 41,000 signatures in the early hours of Tuesday morning, barely two days after the petition was initiated.
The New York Times reported Monday that Justice Department officials were gearing up to press charges against Snowden, following up on formal request made by the NSA on Saturday.
Criticism of the Obama administration’s defense of the legality of the programs has sparked a national debate over secret power and its place in democracy, as well as sparking questions over the efficacy of the programs.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is also under fire for his denial to Democratic Senator Ron Wyden in March that the NSA wittingly collects “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.”