Russia Grants NSA Leaker Edward Snowden Asylum

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Russia is now officially harboring one of the most wanted men in the United States: former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

The Russians granted him asylum for one year -- a move that could further strain already tense relations with the United States.

Today, the White House said it's "extremely disappointed" in Russia's decision. The former contractor left the transit zone of of Moscow airport Thursday afternoon.

In his application for asylum, Snowden said he feared torture or capital punishment if he returned to the United States. Russia said it could extend his one-year asylum indefinitely and will also give Snowden the right to seek Russian citizenship.

The United States has demanded that Russia send Snowden home to face prosecution for espionage over classified leaks. The former NSA contractor has revealed wide-ranging U.S. electronic surveillance programs.

"Mr. Snowden is not a whistleblower or a dissident. He is accused of leaking classified information," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday. "He should be returned to the United States as soon as possible."

Snowden's father, however, is praising Russia.

"I feel that Russia has the strength and resolve and conviction to protect my son and keep him safe out of the reach of those who would wish him harm," he said.

Russia's move is expected to further strain U.S.-Russian relations. The United States is extremely concerned about Russia's role in the Syrian conflict, where Washington and Moscow are supporting opposite sides.

The U.S. wants Syrian President Bashar Assad to cede power while Moscow is one of his key backers.

Carney said today the White House is re-evaluating whether President Obama will travel to Moscow ahead of next month's G-20 summit in St. Petersburg.

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Heather Sells

Heather Sells

CBN News Reporter

Heather Sells enjoys reporting on a variety of issues for CBN News. Some of her recent stories have focused on religious liberties, technology, AIDS, overseas missions, domestic trafficking, and politics.  Follow Heather on Twitter @SellsHeather and "like" her at Facebook.com/HeatherSellsCBNNews.