ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden says he is requesting asylum in Russia. He told a gathering at a Moscow airport today that he is prepared to accept a condition laid down by President Vladimir Putin. Putin said Snowden must cease his work aimed at inflicting damage on the United States.
The 30-year-old former contractor is wanted by the United States for publishing secrets about the NSA's surveillance programs. President Obama spoke with President Putin late today in a phone call that was arranged several days ago. NPR's Corey Flintoff has more from Moscow.
COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: The group that met with Snowden at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport included officials from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, as well as Russian officials close to the Kremlin. They were responding to an email invitation the former intelligence contractor sent out yesterday evening. According to participants at the closed-door meeting, Snowden said he'll request asylum in Russia because it seems to be the safest option while he considers ways to eventually travel on to Latin America.
After the session, lawmaker Sergey Naryshkin told reporters that he considers Snowden a human rights activist who stands up for the rights of millions of people around the world.
SERGEY NARYSHKIN: (Speaking in Russian)
FLINTOFF: He said he believes that Russia must give Snowden asylum because he could potentially face the death penalty in the United States. Naryshkin is chairman of the Russian State Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament, which has recently passed a series of repressive laws that includes curbs on freedom of speech and assembly.
After the meeting, WikiLeaks published the text of Snowden's statement to the group. In it, he accuses the United States of hounding him and making him stateless for his act of political expression. He praises Russia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador for, in his words, being the first to stand against human rights violations carried out by the powerful.
Anatoly Kucherena, a prominent lawyer who's close to the Kremlin, said he'll help Snowden through the asylum process, which he estimates could take two to three weeks. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow.