By Ian Swanson - 12/24/13 09:01 AM EST
Edward Snowden says if Congress had been doing its job, he wouldn’t have needed to leak reams of classified material about National Security Agency programs.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Snowden singled out the leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence panels for allowing the executive branch to conduct the surveillance programs.
Snowden said the question about who made him responsible for revealing the programs turns things on its head.
“That whole question — who elected you? — inverts the model,” he said. “They elected me. The overseers.”
“Dianne Feinstein elected me when she asked softball questions” in committee hearings, he said. “Mike Rogers elected me when he kept these programs hidden. ... The FISA court elected me when they decided to legislate from the bench on things that were far beyond the mandate of what that court was ever intended to do.”
Sen. Feinstein (D-Calif.) leads the Senate Intelligence panel, while Rogers (R-Mich.) is chairman of the House panel.
“The system failed comprehensively, and each level of oversight, each level of responsibility that should have addressed this, abdicated their responsibility,” Snowden told the Post.
“It wasn’t that they put it on me as an individual — that I’m uniquely qualified, an angel descending from the heavens — as that they put it on someone, somewhere,” he said. “You have the capability, and you realize every other [person] sitting around the table has the same capability but they don’t do it. So somebody has to be the first.”
Snowden, who is wanted on espionage charges in the U.S. and has been given temporary asylum in Russia, said he had sought to tell others in the NSA about the programs.
He told the Post that he raised the issue to two superiors in the NSA’s Technology Directorate and two more in the NSA Threat Operations Center’s regional base in Hawaii.
He also told the Post his colleagues were “astonished to learn we are collecting more in the United States on Americans than we are on Russians in Russia.”
Snowden said many of his colleagues were troubled by the information.
Noting that critics have accused him of bypassing internal channels of dissent, he said: “How is that not reporting it? How is that not raising it?”
But a spokeswoman for the NSA told the Post it could find no evidence that Snowden had tried to tell anyone about the issue.
“After extensive investigation, including interviews with his former NSA supervisors and co-workers, we have not found any evidence to support Mr. Snowden’s contention that he brought these matters to anyone’s attention,” the spokeswoman said.
Feinstein and Rogers have both harshly criticized Snowden over the leaks.
Feinstein has called him a traitor, and both have said he should be prosecuted and have no chance at amnesty.
“He needs to come back and own up,” Rogers told Bloomberg. “If he believes there’s vulnerabilities in the systems he’d like to disclose, you don’t do it by committing a crime that actually puts soldiers’ lives at risk in places like Afghanistan.”