Edward Snowden said he is neither a hero nor a traitor for leaking information about a pair of National Security Agency surveillance programs.
In his first interview since checking out of his Hong Kong hotel and disappearing Monday, Snowden told the South China Morning Post that he rejected both labels.
“I'm neither traitor nor hero. I'm an American,” the 29-year-old former defense contractor said.
"I heard today from a reliable source that the United States government is trying to bully the Hong Kong government into extraditing me before the local government can learn of [additional sensitive information]," Snowden said.
"The US government will do anything to prevent me from getting this into the public eye, which is why they are pushing so hard for extradition.”
Snowden vowed he would fight any extradition attempt.
“My intention is to ask the courts and people of Hong Kong to decide my fate. I have been given no reason to doubt your system,” Snowden said.
Snowden also defended his decision to leave Hawaii, where he lived with his girlfriend and worked at an NSA data center, for Hong Kong.
“People who think I made a mistake in picking Hong Kong as a location misunderstand my intentions. I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality,” Snowden said.
The Morning Post offered only limited excerpts from the interview, but said that subsequent stories would reveal new details about American surveillance efforts, as well as Snowden's plans and steps he has taken since coming forward as the leaker.
The Department of Justice has opened an investigation into Snowden's leak, but not yet filed charges or an extradition request. On Tuesday, the White House refused to comment about possible action the administration might take to capture the leaker.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) have said that Snowden’s leaks about top-secret programs data mining Internet and telephone records were treasonous. Others, including former Republican congressman Ron Paul (Texas), said Snowden had “done a great service to the American people.”
This story was last updated at 12:33 p.m.