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In letter to German lawmakers, Snowden speaks of his 'moral duty to act'

In note delivered to German legislators, former NSA contractor defends his leak of documents and says he'd be willing to travel to Germany to testify in probe of US spying there.

Hans-Christian Str&oumlautbele holds up a letter from Edward Snowden at a press conference in Berlin.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

In a letter delivered to German lawmakers Friday, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden said he'd like to be able to travel to their country to assist in a parliamentary investigation of mass surveillance, and he accused the US government of "systemic violations of law" and of "criminalizing political speech."

The letter comes after a meeting in Moscow between Snowden and Hans-Christian Str&oumlautbele, a member of Germany's Green party and a longtime member of the German parliamentary committee that oversees intelligence in the country.

Str&oumlautbele said at a press conference Friday that Snowden "could imagine coming to Germany, as long it was guaranteed that he could stay in Germany or a comparable country thereafter and stay safe there," according to a report in Britain's Guardian newspaper. Str&oumlautbele also said that given the choice, Snowden would prefer speaking before the US Congress.

Snowden, whose massive leak of National Security Agency documents set off the present debate about national security and civil liberties, is currently in Russia after being granted temporary asylum there. Some in the states, including NSA Director Keith Alexander and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, consider him a traitor, and the US Department of Justice has filed criminal charges against him under the Espionage Act.

"In the course of my service to [the NSA and other intelligence organizations], I believe I witnessed systemic violations of law by my government that created a moral duty to act," Snowden says in the letter, which isn't addressed directly to German lawmakers but rather to "whom it may concern."

"As a result of reporting these concerns," Snowden continues, "I have faced a severe and sustained campaign of persecution that forced me from my family and home."

The meeting with Str&oumlautbele follows an outcry in Germany over the NSA's activities. After some initial caginess on the part of the White House, anonymous US officials told The Wall Street Journal this week that the United States had indeed tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cell phone. The German parliament has scheduled a special session on November 18 to discuss NSA spying.

According to the Guardian, the Green party and the left-wing Die Linke have been pushing for that session to lead to a parliamentary investigation. The Guardian also said the Social Democratic party seems to be willing to support an inquiry, which means it would probably take place.

It's not clear if Snowden could travel to Germany without fear of extradition to the states -- aside from the international-relations angle, it's a complex legal issue. Another possibility is for Snowden to somehow provide testimony while in Russia, but Str&oumlautbele reportedly said Snowden had expressed reservations about that option.

Str&oumlautbele has passed Snowden's letter on to the German federal prosecutor, the lower house of Germany's parliament, and Merkel's government.

"Snowden didn't strike me as being anti-American at all, but rather the complete opposite," Str&oumlautbele said during the press conference, according to BusinessWeek.

Here's the complete text of Snowden's letter, as published by The New York Times:

To whom it may concern,

I have been invited to write to you regarding your investigation of mass surveillance.

I am Edward Joseph Snowden, formerly employed through contracts or direct hire as a technical expert for the United States National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, and Defense Intelligence Agency.

In the course of my service to these organizations, I believe I witnessed systemic violations of law by my government that created a moral duty to act. As a result of reporting these concerns, I have faced a severe and sustained campaign of persecution that forced me from my family and home. I am currently living in exile under a grant of temporary asylum in the Russian Federation in accordance with international law.

I am heartened by the response to my act of political expression, in both the United States and beyond. Citizens around the world as well as high officials -- including in the United States -- have judged the revelation of an unaccountable system of pervasive surveillance to be a public service. These spying revelations have resulted in the proposal of many new laws and policies to address formerly concealed abuses of the public trust. The benefits to society of this growing knowledge are becoming increasingly clear at the same time claimed risks are being shown to have been mitigated.

Though the outcome of my efforts has been demonstrably positive, my 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. I am confident that with the support of the international community, the government of the United States will abandon this harmful behavior. I hope that when the difficulties of this humanitarian situation have been resolved, I will be able to cooperate in the responsible finding of fact regarding reports in the media, particularly in regard to the truth and authenticity of documents, as appropriate and in accordance with the law.

I look forward to speaking with you in your country when the situation is resolved, and thank you for your efforts in upholding the international laws that protect us all.

With my best regards,

Edward Snowden
31 October 2013