BERLIN (AP) — The U.S. refused to show any leniency to fugitive leaker Edward Snowden on Friday, even as Secretary of State John Kerry conceded that eavesdropping on allies had happened on "automatic pilot" and went too far.
Snowden made his appeal for U.S. clemency in a letter released Friday by a German lawmaker who met with him in Moscow. In it, the 30-year-old American asked for international help to persuade the U.S. to drop spying charges against him and said he would like to testify before the U.S. Congress about the National Security Agency's surveillance activities.
Snowden also indicated he would be willing to help German officials investigate alleged U.S. spying in Germany, said Hans-Christian Stroebele, a lawmaker with the opposition Green Party and a member of the parliamentary committee that oversees German intelligence.
Stroebele met with Snowden for three hours on Thursday, a week after explosive allegations that the NSA had monitored Chancellor Angela Merkel's cellphone prompted her to complain personally to President Barack Obama. The alleged spying has produced the most serious diplomatic tensions between the two allies since Germany opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
In his one-page typed letter, written in English and bearing signatures that Stroebele said were his own and Snowden's, the American complained that the U.S. government "continues to treat dissent as defection, and seeks to criminalize political speech with felony charges that provide no defense."
"However, speaking the truth is not a crime," Snowden wrote. "I am confident that with the support of the international community, the government of the United States will abandon this harmful behavior."
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki would not respond directly to Snowden's appeal, but said the U.S. position "has not changed."
"Despite recent reports or recent pronouncements from Mr. Snowden, as we've stated many times before, he's accused of leaking classified information, faces felony charges here in the United States and we believe he should be returned as soon as possible, where he will be accorded full due process and protections applicable under U.S. law," Psaki said.
Snowden's father, Lon Snowden, who recently visited his son in Russia and continues to communicate with him, told The Associated Press on Friday that Snowden will not travel to Germany to talk to authorities as long as the U.S. charges remain in place.
"If they want to understand my son's position about Germany, read his letter. It's pretty clear. He is not going to Germany to testify as long as he is indicted by the United States and their position is what it is," the elder Snowden said, adding that his son would prefer to testify before Congress anyway.
"My son would love to come back to the United States but I'm not sure it will be safe for him, even if all charges are dropped," Lon Snowden said. "My advice would be to stay in Russia and move on with his life, and that's what I believe he will do."
Stroebele said Edward Snowden appeared healthy and cheerful during their meeting at an undisclosed location in Moscow. The German television network ARD, which accompanied Stroebele, said the Germans were taken to the meeting by unidentified security officials under "strict secrecy."