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Snowden's father criticizes Congress, Obama over spy programs

Former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden is seen in this still image taken from video during an interview by The Guardian in his hot
Former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden is seen in this still image taken from video during an interview by The Guardian in his hot

By Susan Heavey and Tabassum Zakaria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The father of fugitive U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden on Friday criticized Congress for failing to rein in a sweeping surveillance program made public by his son and accused the Obama administration of pursuing him with a "zeal to punish."

Lonnie Snowden has not had direct communication with his son since he fled to Hong Kong and then Russia, but sent a letter to President Barack Obama on Friday defending his son's actions as similar to acts of civil disobedience.

"We thus find your administration's zeal to punish Mr. Snowden's discharge of civic duty to protect democratic processes and to safeguard liberty to be unconscionable and indefensible," the letter to Obama said.

"We are also appalled at your administration's scorn for due process, the rule of law, fairness, and the presumption of innocence as regards Edward," he wrote in the letter posted on MSNBC's website.

Lonnie Snowden, in an interview with NBC's "Today" show, said lawmakers were "complicit or negligent" in allowing the National Security Agency's massive electronic surveillance program to continue.

"I am extremely disappointed and angry," he said. "The American people - at this point, they don't know the full truth, but the truth is coming."

NBC polling showed that more than half of Americans are worried about the vast operation that sweeps up information on phone calls, emails and other communications, but just 11 percent support Edward Snowden's decision to flee the United States and release details about the effort to the media.

Lonnie Snowden said those findings show "a concerted effort" by lawmakers and Obama "to demonize my son, to focus the issue on my son, and not to talk about the fact that they had a responsibility to ensure that these programs were constitutional."

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday narrowly rejected a plan to limit the NSA's ability to collect electronic information, including phone call records.

About half of Americans support the data collection program while about 44 percent do not, according to a Pew Research Center poll released on Friday.

'JUST LAUGHABLE'

Edward Snowden was working at the National Security Agency as a contractor from Booz Allen Hamilton before he released details about the spying programs to U.S. and British media that were published in early June.

Russia has so far refused to hand over Snowden, who has remained in a Moscow airport since June 23, to the United States, and is considering a temporary asylum request.

On Friday Russia said its officials and the FBI were discussing the matter, and the U.S. Department of Justice said it had assured Russian counterparts that Snowden would not be tortured or face the death penalty if he was returned.

"Wow that's a real concession, they won't torture him and send him to the guillotine," Bruce Fein, Lonnie Snowden's lawyer, told Reuters, adding that such assurances were "just laughable."

He also said he had not received a response from the Justice Department over an earlier letter outlining possible conditions for his client to return to the United States.

Lonnie Snowden told NBC he was confident in his son's actions.

"I believe that my son, when he takes his final breath whether it's today or 100 years from now, he will be comfortable with what he did because he did what he knew was right."

(Editing by Vicki Allen)

(This story was refiled to say Fein is lawyer for Lonnie Snowden, not Edward Snowden, in paragraph 14)

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