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Snowden Has Left Moscow’s Airport, As Russia Grants Asylum

Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker seen here in a photo taken in July, has been granted temporary asylum in Russia. Thursday, he left Moscow's airport for the first time in more than a month.

NSA leaker Edward Snowden has left Moscow's airport, his Russian legal adviser told reporters Thursday. Snowden arrived at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport from Hong Kong more than a month ago, after news media published a trove of secret U.S. documents supplied by the former National Security Agency contractor.

Snowden's Russian adviser, Anatoly Kucherena, "has told reporters that he passed along documents to Edward Snowden allowing him to enter Russian soil," NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Moscow. "Kucherena and sources at Sheremetyevo Airport say Snowden has left the airport."

Multiple media outlets and WikiLeaks were reporting that Snowden has been granted asylum for a period of at least one year.

Earlier Thursday, WikiLeaks tweeted, "Edward Snowden has successfully acquired refugee status in Russia and will shortly leave the airport."

We will update this post with more details as they emerge.

Update at 9:20 a.m. ET: Possible Conditions To Asylum?

Speaking earlier this summer about Snowden's search for a safe haven as U.S. authorities pursue espionage charges against him, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Snowden could stay in Russia only if he stops any activities that would damage the United States, NPR's Corey Flintoff reminds us.

"Britain's Guardian newspaper has published new information about U.S. programs," Corey says, "and is said to have much more information that Snowden provided."

On Wednesday, the newspaper published information on a program called XKeyscore, which it compared to the previously disclosed PRISM. The Guardian reported that XKeyscore allows NSA analysts to "mine enormous agency databases" with only a cursory explanation.

The Guardian suggested that the program could give an analyst access to "nearly everything a typical user does on the Internet" -- including Americans and foreigners, as The Two-Way reported yesterday.

It's not yet clear whether Snowden pledged to stop the flow of secret information in order to receive asylum.

In the past, Putin has suggested the complicated Snowden case may be more trouble than it's worth. Or at least, that's what we were left to believe after he unveiled this simile in June: "In any case, I would like not to deal with such issues because it is like shearing a pig: There's lots of squealing and little fleece."

Update at 8:35 a.m. ET: WikiLeaks Reacts To Snowden's Departure

"We would like to thank the Russian people and all those others who have helped to protect Mr. Snowden," WikiLeaks says. "We have won the battle --now the war."

The anti-secrecy group, which has been in contact with Snowden since he was in Hong Kong, says that the American "has now left Moscow airport under the care of WikiLeaks' Sarah Harrison."

News of Snowden's departure from Sheremetyevo International Airport comes one day after his father, Lon, told The Washington Post that he had declined an offer to travel to Moscow in an effort to get his son to come back to the United States.

Lon Snowden said the proposal fell apart after FBI officials said they could not guarantee he would speak with his son.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, folks, I'm not going to sit on the tarmac to be an emotional tool for you,' " Snowden told The Post's Jerry Markon.

Edward Snowden, 30, faces charges of espionage for releasing classified documents to The Guardian and other news media detailing the National Security Agency's broad spying programs and, in particular, its ability to monitor the phone and Internet activity of American citizens.

In his interview with The Post, Lon Snowden said his son loves the United States and grew up around law enforcement officials in Maryland. He also said, "If he comes back to the United States, he is going to be treated horribly. He is going to be thrown into a hole. He is not going to be allowed to speak."

Since the revelations about the NSA's spying abilities, the U.S. government has attempted to reassure Americans that their privacy is not at risk.

Several hearings in Congress have focused on the matter, and as The Two-Way reported yesterday, NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander told a crowd at a large annual hackers' convention in Las Vegas that the agency's analysts do not abuse their authority. And "if they did," he said, "our auditing tools would detect them and they would be held accountable."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit www.npr.org.

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