( A “possibility exists” for National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden to return to his home country, former US attorney general Eric Holder has said.

Holder, who left the Obama administration in April, said in an interview with Yahoo News that the Justice Department was open to cutting a deal with the former NSA contractor, who fled the US for Hong Kong and then Russia (where he remains) after exposing the extent of global surveillance programs in 2013.

“We are in a different place as a result of the Snowden disclosures… his actions spurred a necessary debate,” Holder said. In 2014, both independent and White House-funded studies analysed hundreds of terror cases in the US and concluded that the NSA collection of phone records had had no discernible impact in foiling terror plots.

Snowden was quietly vindicated last month when the US Senate passed a bill to end the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records. On the possibility of a plea deal, Holder said: “I certainly think there could be a basis for a resolution that everybody could ultimately be satisfied with. I think the possibility exists.”

Snowden, 31, is currently waiting on asylum decisions from 21 different countries, but his lawyers have said he has expressed a desire to come home.