Snowden says he took no secret files to Russia

WASHINGTON — Edward J. Snowden,
the former National Security
Agency contractor, said in an extensive
interview this month that he did not
take any secret N.S.A. documents with
him to Russia when he fled there in
June, assuring that Russian intelligence
officials could not get access to them.
Mr. Snowden said he gave all of the
classified documents he had obtained
to journalists he met in Hong Kong,
before flying to Moscow, and did not
keep any copies for himself. He did not
take the files to Russia “because it
wouldn’t serve the public interest,” he
said.
“What would be the unique value of
personally carrying another copy of
the materials onward?” he added.
He also asserted that he was able to
protect the documents from China ’s
spies because he was familiar with that
nation’s intelligence abilities, saying
that as an N.S.A. contractor he had
targeted Chinese operations and had
taught a course on Chinese
cybercounterintelligence.
“There’s a zero percent chance the
Russians or Chinese have received any
documents,” he said.
American intelligence officials have
expressed grave concern that the files
might have fallen into the hands of
foreign intelligence services, but Mr.
Snowden said he believed that the
N.S.A. knew he had not cooperated
with the Russians or the Chinese. He
said he was publicly revealing that he
no longer had any agency documents
to explain why he was confident that
Russia had not gained access to them.
He had been reluctant to disclose that
information previously, he said, for
fear of exposing the journalists to
greater scrutiny.
In a wide-ranging interview over
several days in the last week, Mr.
Snowden offered detailed responses to
accusations that have been leveled
against him by American officials and
other critics, provided new insights
into why he became disillusioned with
the N.S.A. and decided to disclose the
documents, and talked about the
international debate over surveillance
that resulted from the revelations. The
interview took place through
encrypted online communications.
Mr. Snowden, 30, has been praised by
privacy advocates and assailed by
government officials as a traitor who
has caused irreparable harm, and he
is facing charges under the Espionage
Act for leaking the N.S.A. documents
to the news media. In the interview, he
said he believed he was a whistle-
blower who was acting in the nation’s
best interests by revealing information
about the N.S.A.’s surveillance dragnet
and huge collections of
communications data, including that of
Americans.
He argued that he had helped
American national security by
prompting a badly needed public
debate about the scope of the
intelligence effort. “The secret
continuance of these programs
represents a far greater danger than
their disclosure,” Mr. Snowden said. He
added that he had been more
concerned that Americans had not
been told about the N.S.A.’s reach
than he was about any specific
surveillance operation.
“So long as there’s broad support
amongst a people, it can be argued
there’s a level of legitimacy even to the
most invasive and morally wrong
program, as it was an informed and
willing decision,” he said. “However,
programs that are implemented in
secret, out of public oversight, lack
that legitimacy, and that’s a problem.
It also represents a dangerous
normalization of ‘governing in the
dark,’ where decisions with enormous
public impact occur without any public
input.”
Mr. Snowden said he had never
considered defecting while in Hong
Kong, nor in Russia, where he has been
permitted to stay for one year. He said
he felt confident that he had secured
the documents from Chinese spies, and
that the N.S.A. knew he had done so.
His last target while working as an
agency contractor was China, he said,
adding that he had had “access to
every target, every active operation”
mounted by the N.S.A. against the
Chinese. “Full lists of them,” he said.
“If that was compromised,” he went
on, “N.S.A. would have set the table on
fire from slamming it so many times in
denouncing the damage it had caused.
Yet N.S.A. has not offered a single
example of damage from the leaks.
They haven’t said boo about it except
‘we think,’ ‘maybe,’ ‘have to assume’
from anonymous and former officials.
Not ‘China is going dark.’ Not ‘the
Chinese military has shut us out.’ ”
An N.S.A. spokeswoman did not
respond Thursday to a request for
comment on Mr. Snowden’s assertions.