Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, said in an interview this month that when he fled to Russia from Hong Kong SAR, China, in June, he did not take any classified NSA files with him.
Snowden further assured that Russian espionage agents had no way of getting access to the files, as he handed over all those documents to the journalists he met in Hong Kong, and did not make any duplicate copies for himself, “because it wouldn’t serve the public interest."
“What would be the unique value of personally carrying another copy of the materials onward?...There’s a zero percent chance the Russians or Chinese have received any documents,” he added.
Snowden was also confident about China's intelligence capabilities, claiming that as an NSA contractor he had extensively targeted the eastern giant's espionage operations and even taught a course on Chinese cyber-counterintelligence.
American espionage and covert operations officials have condemned Snowden as a traitor, and have asserted that Chinese and Russians might have gotten access to the files.
The interview took place over several days last week in a "safe" location in Russia, where Snowden has been granted political asylum. The interview took place through encrypted online communications.
Snowden, 30, has been praised by Constitutionalists and privacy advocates while Federal government has slapped charges on him under the Espionage Act for leaking the files. The famous fugitive claimed that he was acting in "nation's" best interests, by revealing NSA's omniscient surveillance efforts including conversations, emails, purchase habits, etc, and pleaded for vigorous national public debate about mass surveillance and monitoring of Americans.
“The secret continuance of these programs represents a far greater danger than their disclosure...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.”
Snowden's last target as NSA contractor was China, and he had “access to every target, every active operation” mounted by NSA against the Chinese, including:
“ Full lists of them. If that was compromised,...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.’ ”
Snowden also feared that working through proper channels utilizing the chain of command would lead to swift gagging and retribution. In 2008 and 2009, while working in Geneva as an IT officer for CIA, he pushed for a promotion, but got into a “petty e-mail spat” over a senior manager’s judgment.
When Snowden discovered serious vulnerabilities in a CIA software, he warned his supervisor, but was advised to keep his mouth shut. After much haggling, he was allowed to test the system with a "non-malicious" code, which proved that the system was in fact vulnerable. But this time, someone higher up in the chain of command was annoyed and gave Snowden a bad review in his personnel file.
Snowden feared that he would be persecuted and stigmatized like former NSA employee Thomas A. Drake, who, like Snowden, had exposed NSA's wrongdoings. He added that dissent was crushed or suppressed using “fear and a false image of patriotism."
Edward Snowden lamented that had he raised the issue of unconstitutional surveillance as an insider, his complaints “would have been buried forever,” and he would “have been discredited and ruined...the system does not work...you have to report wrongdoing to those most responsible for it.”
Alarmed by a highly classified 2009 report he chanced upon at the agency, he concluded that, “If the highest officials in government can break the law without fearing punishment or even any repercussions at all...secret powers become tremendously dangerous...You can’t read something like that and not realize what it means for all of these systems we have."
Snowden is permitted to stay in Russia for one year, but his future appears perilous after this sojourn. Benjamin Franklin once remarked that, "those who sacrifice liberty for security, deserve neither."