By Steve Gutterman
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Edward Snowden's father arrived in Moscow on Thursday to visit the former U.S. spy agency contractor who is living in a secret location in Russia beyond the reach of U.S. authorities.
"I am his father, I love my son and I certainly hope I will have an opportunity to see my son," Lon Snowden told reporters at the airport, adding that he felt "extreme gratitude that my son is safe and secure and he's free".
Snowden, who worked for the National Security Agency in Hawaii, fled to Hong Kong in June and then flew to Moscow where he was given a year's political asylum. President's Vladimir Putin's refusal to hand him over aggravated already tense relations with the United States.
Lon Snowden's visit will focus international attention once again on Snowden, who was holed up in the Moscow airport for weeks over the summer, and shows the human side of a story which Washington says is a case of treachery.
Accompanied by Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena, Lon Snowden went from the airport to a state television studio for a live interview, suggesting the visit was under government control.
Kucherena said Lon would meet Edward - who has not been seen in public since July - later on Thursday but that he would have to travel "quite a number of kilometres" to get there.
"I have prepared an entire programme so that he can meet with his son and get more closely acquainted with our country," Kucherena said, according to state newswire Itar-Tass.
Lon Snowden arrived a day after his son was visited by four former U.S. national security officials who support his cause.
Anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks posted a photo on Twitter of Snowden, smiling and holding an award for "Integrity in Intelligence" that his visitors had given him, flanked by the Americans and WikiLeaks researcher Sarah Harrison.
"I thought he looked great," Jesselyn Radack, a former ethics adviser to the U.S. Department of Justice who now works as a lawyer for whistleblowers, told state-run English-language TV channel RT.
"He seemed very centred and brilliant, smart, funny and very engaged."
Another of the four visitors, former CIA official Ray McGovern, said: "He's made his peace with what he did. He's convinced that what he did was right, he has no regrets and he's willing to face whatever the future holds for him."
Snowden's revelations about the reach and methods of the NSA, including the monitoring of vast volumes of Internet traffic and phone records, have upset U.S. allies from Germany to Brazil. Admirers call him a human rights champion and critics denounce him as a traitor.
Putin, a former KGB spy, said repeatedly that Russia would only shelter Snowden if he stopped harming the United States. But he has used the case to accuse Washington of preaching to the world about rights it does not uphold at home.
Lon Snowden said he did not know his son's intentions for the future, but believed he had not been involved in divulging any information since he had arrived in Russia and was "simply trying to remain healthy and safe".
He said he was "not sure my son will be returning to the U.S. again".
Kucherena said he hoped Snowden would find a job in Russia - possibly in IT or the human rights sector - because he was living on scant funds, mainly donations. (Additional reporting by Alessandra Prentice and Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Robin Pomeroy)
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