Over the weekend, a Republican Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told Meet the Press that it was neither "coincidence" nor "a gee-whiz luck event" that NSA leaker Edward Snowden exiled himself in Moscow.
Rogers said Snowden was now under "the handling of the FSB," Russia's intelligence agency. Other politicians and pundits chimed in, implying without offering evidence that Snowden had help from Russia in his flight from the three felony charges he faces in the United States in connection with his disclosure of classified information he’d accessed as a contractor working with the National Security Agency.
Snowden denied the allegations in an encrypted chat interview Tuesday with The New Yorker; the magazine's sister publication Ars Technica also covered the rebuttal.
From Ars Technica:
Snowden told The New Yorker: “[I] clearly and unambiguously acted alone, with no assistance from anyone, much less a government.” He added, “It won’t stick… because it’s clearly false, and the American people are smarter than politicians think they are.”
The whistleblower observed that if he were a Russian spy, why would he have turned up in Hong Kong, only to then be stuck in the transit zone of Moscow Sheremetyevo International Airport for 40 days?
“Spies get treated better than that,” he quipped.
The issue came up again Wednesday at the State Department briefing, where spokeswoman Marie Harf was asked whether the United States believes Snowden acted alone or with the help of Russia.
"Good question," Harf said, promising to check with other State Department officials to see what could be said publicly about the case.
The Russian news agency RT is also on the case, publishing remarks Wednesday from Snowden's legal representative in Russia, Anatoly Kucherena. According to RT:
On Wednesday, Snowden’s legal representative in Russia, Anatoly Kucherena, said accusations that Moscow somehow played a part in Snowden’s decision to take hundreds of thousands of classified documents were attempts to discredit the Russian Federation.
“In this case it’s an egregious fact that people [ranking government officials] like the head of the US House Intelligence Committee is tossing around false information to the press,” Kucherena told Ria-Novosti News Agency.
Snowden's decision to go public about a vast U.S. surveillance program was the catalyst for the White House's announcement last week of reforms within the NSA. Snowden supporters say the reforms should've come with a presidential pardon for the "whistleblower" whose revelations triggered a debate on rights of privacy vs. national security interests.