Snowden to NY Times: I Took No Classified Files to Russia

Thursday, 17 Oct 2013 09:44 PM

By Cathy Burke

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Spy agency leaker Edward Snowden says he left all classified documents in Hong Kong and took none to Russia after fleeing from his job at the National Security Agency, The New York Times reported Thursday.

The former NSA contractor also said he protected the files from China's spies.

"There's a zero percent chance the Russians or Chinese have received any documents," he declared in an interview the Times said took place over several days using encrypted communications.

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Snowden, a former contractor who fled Hawaii in June, said he left all sensitive files outlining the spy agency's surveillance techniques with reporters in Hong Kong before flying to Moscow, where he's been granted temporary asylum.

He said it would not "serve the public interest" to have taken the documents to Russia, asking: "What would be the unique value of personally carrying another copy of the materials onward?"

Snowden's admissions about remaining NSA documents explained why he was confident Russia hadn't gained access to them, the newspaper said. Snowden was reluctant to say anything previously "for fear of exposing the journalists to greater scrutiny," the Times said.

Snowden — who's been charged with violating the Espionage Act but hailed by privacy advocates — said he believes the NSA knows he didn't give anything to Russia or China.

Snowden told the Times his massive leaks have actually helped American national security by prompting a badly needed public debate — though Obama administration officials have strongly disagreed.

"The secret continuance of these programs represents a far greater danger than their disclosure," he said.

"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."

An NSA spokeswoman didn't respond to the Times' request for comment.

Snowden said his decision to leak NSA documents developed gradually, dating back at least to his time working as a technician in the Geneva station of the CIA.

His experiences there fed his doubts about the intelligence community, while also convincing him that working through the chain of command would only lead to retribution, he told the newspaper.

Snowden also told the Times that inside the spy agency, "there's a lot of dissent — palpable with some, even." But he said that people were kept in line through "fear and a false image of patriotism," which he described as "obedience to authority."

He said he believed that if he tried to question the agency's surveillance operations as an insider, his efforts "would have been buried forever," and he would "have been discredited and ruined."

He said "the system does not work," adding that "you have to report wrongdoing to those most responsible for it."

Editor's Note: 22 Hidden Taxes and Fees Set to Hit You With Obamacare. Read the Guide to Protect Yourself.

Snowden said he finally decided to act when he discovered a copy of a classified 2009 inspector general's report on the agency's warrantless wiretapping program during the Bush administration.

"It was too highly classified to be where it was," he said of the report. He opened the document to make certain that it did not belong there, and after he saw what it revealed, "curiosity prevailed," he said.

After reading about the program, which skirted the existing surveillance laws, he concluded it had been illegal, he said. "If the highest officials in government can break the law without fearing punishment or even any repercussions at all," he told the Times, "secret powers become tremendously dangerous."



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