Edward Snowden needs better security after a news report quoted unnamed US intelligence officials saying they wanted the former spy agency contractor dead and discussing ways to kill him, his Russian lawyer said on Tuesday.
Snowden was granted asylum in Russia last summer after fleeing the United States, where he is wanted on espionage charges for leaking information about government surveillance practices. The American's revelations caused an uproar in the United States over privacy rights and angered many US allies.
Russia's decision to shelter him damaged already strained ties between Moscow and Washington. "We are concerned about potential hidden threats that we have heard often recently. In these statements ... they openly call for physical reprisal against Edward Snowden," lawyer Anatoly Kucherena said on state-run Rossiya-24 television.
Without naming any media outlet, he referred to comments reported by the website BuzzFeed, which quoted a Pentagon official as saying he would love to shoot Snowden in the head. BuzzFeed quoted a US Army intelligence officer as saying the former National Security Agency contractor could be killed Cold War-style, poked with a poisoned needle while returning home from the grocery store.
"Edward, of course, treats these remarks as a real threat to his life because he lives an ordinary life and goes to the store and goes out on the street," said Kucherena. "Edward must think of his safety, and probably now it is not sufficient for him to have only private guards - it's necessary to think about how to secure his life and health," he said. Snowden has been well hidden from the public eye since he was granted asylum, with a few photos and video clips emerging from meetings with Western lawmakers and former officials, but Kucherena has repeatedly portrayed him as living a normal life.
Members of at least two groups of people who have met with Snowden in the last few months have said that they had to pass through metal detectors before meeting him and that security men were visible at the perimeter of the meeting places, President Vladimir Putin has said Russia did not engineer Snowden's arrival and denied suspicion in the West that Russian intelligence officers have pumped him for information.
Putin rejected US calls to send Snowden home for prosecution, adding to tension in ties already frayed since his return to the Kremlin in 2012, but has said he does not want the fugitive to harm relations with Washington.
US President Barack Obama called off plans for a Moscow summit with Putin after Russia granted Snowden asylum. He is useful as a propaganda tool for Putin, who accuses the United States of preaching about rights it does not uphold at home. Kucherena said he and a US lawyer he said was also aiding Snowden would call upon the US authorities to establish and reveal the identities of the officials who were quoted.
"We believe that the American government should pay attention to such statements," he said, later adding: "We will ask for these individuals to have their masks removed." Asked whether Snowden might leave Russia because of the perceived threats, Kucherena said the 30-year-old American would decide himself what to do to improve his security. He gave no details about potential measures.