Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden said he did not provide any classified documents about U.S. surveillance to Russia or China.
After leaking classified documents to numerous newspapers, Snowden fled to Hong Kong before seeking asylum in Russia in August.
Snowden said he handed over the last of his documents to reporters while in Hong Kong because it would not serve the public interest to carry them with him to Russia.
“What would be the unique value of personally carrying another copy of the materials onward?” he said.
Snowden said China had been his last target while working as a contractor, and he was confident he kept his classified documents from them while there.
“If that was compromised,” he said. “NSA would have set the table on fire from slamming it so many times in denouncing the damage it had caused. Yet NSA 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 described himself as a whistle-blower. He said his biggest concern with the NSA programs was the public’s lack of knowledge about them.
“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.
Snowden said his decision to go public with classified documents came about when he inadvertently found a classified inspectors general report about one of the wiretapping programs. After he opened the document and found it was too highly classified to be where it was in the computer system, he said “curiosity prevailed.”
He said he did not believe going through the appropriate channels at the NSA would have worked, maintaining his efforts to reveal the programs would have been “buried forever.”
The level of dissent inside the NSA is sometimes “palpable,” Snowden said, but employees are kept in line by “fear and a false image of patriotism.”