The NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden will not be executed or tortured if he were to return to the United States, according to assurances in a letter from the Attorney General to Russia's Justice Minister.
"We understand from press reports that Mr Snowden has filed papers seeking temporary asylum in Russia on the grounds that if he were returned to the United States, he would be tortured and would face the death penalty," Eric Holder wrote in the letter to Russian Minister of Justice Alexander Vladimirovich Konovalov.
"These claims are entirely without merit."
The crimes that Snowden has committed do not carry the death penalty, but the US would not seek the death penalty even if it were to later charge the whistleblower with other crimes, Holder said.
The letter also said it would re-issue a passport back to Snowden to travel back to the US.
"We understand from press reports and prior conversations between our governments that Mr Snowden believes he is unable to travel out of Russia and must therefore take steps to legalise his status. That is not accurate; he is able to travel.
"Despite the revocation of his passport on 22 June 2013, Mr Snowden remains a US citizen. He is eligible for a limited validity passport good for direct return to the United States. The United States is willing to immediately issue such a passport to Mr Snowden."
In June, Snowden was charged with three felonies that each carry a maximum of 10 years in prison: theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defence information, and willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorised person.
Snowden, a former NSA analyst who then worked for defence contracter Booz Allen, leaked documents to the Guardian and Washington Post, showing the full extent of government surveillance of phone conversations and online activity, seemingly collaborations with companies like Facebook, Yahoo and Google.
THE LETTER IN FULL
Earlier this week it was reported that Russia was on the brink of issuing documents to Snowden to leave Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, where he has lived for over a month.
Having applied for asylum in 21 countries, but unable to leave the airport, Snowden decided again to seek refuge in the country.
According to his lawyer Anatoly Kucherena, Snowden had also stated that he would meet Putin's condition for granting asylum, that he stop leaking details that could 'damage American partners'.
Kucherena, head of the public council for the Soviet KGB's successor agency the FSB, said Snowden had stated in the application that he faced possible torture and execution if he returned to the US, which Holder's letter emphatically disputes.