Why does Edward Snowden stay in Russia? This is a question raised by his critics but also pondered by his supporters, given the country's hostility to freedom of expression and its engagement in the sorts of activities that Snowden himself decries. To many of us, some explanations for why he is still there seem rather obvious -- in short, he doesn't want to go to prison, and going anywhere else right now would be too risky -- and the Washington Post does some reporting with top US law enforcement and diplomatic officials that sheds a lot more light on this issue. I recommend reading the whole thing, but I will put some highlights below the orange pig-in-a-blanket.
The first interesting point made by the article is that Snowden is pretty much completely untouchable as long as he stays in Moscow. As the Post states, regarding White House homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco:
“The best play for us is him landing in a third country,” Monaco said, according to an official who met with her at the White House. The official, who like other current and former officials interviewed for this article discussed internal deliberations on the condition of anonymity, added, “We were hoping he was going to be stupid enough to get on some kind of airplane, and then have an ally say: ‘You’re in our airspace. Land.’ ”The article describes what a clumsy move the decision to force down President Morales's plane really was: first, they had no intelligence that Snowden was aboard. Second, he was forced down in Austria, which likely would not have violated Bolivia's national sovereignty by forcibly removing a passenger from the president's plane. Third, of course, we know that Snowden wasn't on the plane, and this action likely convinced Snowden and his advisers that any effort to leave Russia would likely result in his capture. So he stayed. I would add, as a fourth, that this damaged US relations with Bolivia even further, but by now it is clear that Washington cares very little to have good relations with La Paz, a feeling that is mostly mutual anyway.
U.S. officials thought they saw such an opening on July 2 when Bolivian President Evo Morales, who expressed support for Snowden, left Moscow aboard his presidential aircraft. The decision to divert that plane ended in embarrassment when it was searched in Vienna and Snowden was not aboard.
The article goes on to explain one of the complications of monitoring Snowden's movements in Moscow, which the author calls "ironic":
Several U.S. officials cited a complication to gathering intelligence on Snowden that could be seen as ironic: the fact that there has been no determination that he is an “agent of a foreign power,” a legal distinction required to make an American citizen a target of espionage overseas.In other words, despite the fact that such accusations are thrown around by Republican Congressmen and some members of Daily Kos alike, the US intelligence services apparently have no evidence that Snowden is cooperating with Russian intelligence or any other foreign powers. Since they cannot pin him as an "agent of a foreign power," there are legal limits to what they can do to monitor him. To this I would add that Snowden is probably well aware of how to trip up a lot of their surveillance methods anyway. He is certainly an expert in them.
Basically, the article concludes that US intelligence officials were waiting and hoping that Snowden would make a wrong step, such as flying out of Moscow to another country where he could be more easily apprehended, but he has not.
Of course, the article points out an obvious but uncomfortable fact: there is no doubt that he is under close watch by Russian intelligence, even though he denies that he has turned over a single document to them (indeed, he denies that he carried any classified documents into Moscow) or that he has cooperated with them in any way, and, according to this article, the US has not been able to prove otherwise. Nevertheless, his status in Russia is fragile, subject to renewal and also subject to being revoked at any time. This is a less-than-ideal situation, but the fact is, he got stuck in Moscow, and as this article makes clear, there really is nowhere else for him to safely go right now.