NSA leaker Edward Snowden defended his disclosure of top-secret U.S. spying programs in an online chat Monday with The Guardian and attacked U.S. officials for calling him a traitor.
“The U.S. government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me,” he said. He added the government “immediately and predictably destroyed any possibility of a fair trial at home,” by labeling him a traitor, and indicated he would not return to the U.S. voluntarily.
Congressional leaders have called Snowden a traitor for revealing once-secret surveillance programs two weeks ago in The Guardian and The Washington Post. The National Security Agency programs collect records of millions of Americans’ telephone calls and internet usage as a counterterror tool. The disclosures revealed the scope of the collections, which surprised many Americans and have sparked debate about how much privacy the government can take away in the name of national security.
“It would be foolish to volunteer yourself to” possible arrest and criminal charges “if you can do more good outside of prison than in it,” he said.
Snowden dismissed being called a traitor by former Vice President Dick Cheney, who made the allegations in an interview this week with Fox News on Sunday. Cheney was echoing the comments of both Democrats and Republican leadership on Capitol Hill, including Senate Intelligence committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein.
“Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American, and the more panicked talk we hear from people like him, Feinstein … the better off we all are,” Snowden said.
The Guardian announced that its website was hosting an online chat with Snowden, in hiding in Hong Kong, with reporter Glenn Greenwald receiving and posting his questions. The Associated Press couldn’t independently verify that Snowden was the man who posted 19 replies to questions.
In answer to the question of whether he fled to Hong Kong because he was spying for China, Snowden wrote, “Ask yourself: if I were a Chinese spy, why wouldn’t I have flown directly into Beijing? I could be living in a palace petting a phoenix by now.”
He added later, “I have had no contact with the Chinese government.”
Snowden dismissed the U.S. government’s claims that the NSA surveillance programs had helped thwart dozens of terrorist attacks in more than 20 countries, including the 2009 al-Qaida plot by Afghan American Najibullah Zazi to blow up New York subways.
“Journalists should ask a specific question: … how many terrorist attacks were prevented SOLELY by information derived from this suspicionless surveillance that could not be gained via any other source? Then ask how many individual communications were ingested to acheive (sic) that, and ask yourself if it was worth it.”
Snowden was working as a contractor for NSA at the time he had access to the then-secret programs. He defended his actions and said he considered what to reveal and what not to, saying he did not reveal any U.S. operations against what he called legitimate military targets, but instead showed that the NSA is hacking civilian infrastructure like universities and private businesses.