By Jeremy Herb - 06/18/13 12:23 AM EDT
National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden resurfaced on Monday in an online chat where he dismissed critics who see him as motivated by publicity.
Snowden said his actions meant the U.S. government couldn’t cover up surveillance activities by “by jailing or murdering me.” He denied selling information to China for asylum, saying he would be “living in a palace petting a phoenix” had he chosen that route.
During the chat on Monday, Snowden said the government could no longer silence him and suggested he still had more documents to reveal.
“All I can say right now is the U.S. Government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me,” Snowden wrote. “Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped.”
For his detractors, the online chat with The Guardian — the most recent in a series of media appearances by Snowden — seemed another piece of evidence that the former contractor is more of a narcissist than a whistle-blowing hero.
Snowden’s credibility had already taken a hit for some of the false statements he made in previous interviews, such as his claim he could tap the president’s email, and his boast about pulling down a $200,000 salary from contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.
Columnists and pundits like The New York Times’s David Brooks, The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen and Bob Schieffer, host of CBS’s “Face the Nation,” have questioned Snowden’s motives.
“I think what we have in Edward Snowden is just a narcissistic young man who has decided he is smarter than the rest of us. I don’t know what he is beyond that, but he is no hero,” Schieffer said Sunday.
“If he has a valid point — and I’m not even sure he does — he would greatly help his cause by voluntarily coming home to face the consequences.”
Lawmakers who have defended the NSA’s programs have labeled Snowden a traitor, and even those highly critical of the phone and Internet surveillance programs, such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), have been hesitant to back him.
Former Vice President Cheney on Sunday suggested Snowden might be spying for China.
“I’m deeply suspicious obviously because he went to China,” Cheney said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“That’s not a place where you ordinarily want to go if you’re interested in freedom and liberty and so forth. So, it raises questions whether or not he had that kind of connection before he did this,” he said.
Snowden hit back at his detractors on Monday. He said that being called a traitor by Cheney was “the highest honor you can give an American,” and complained that media coverage of him has missed the point.
“Unfortunately, the mainstream media now seems far more interested in what I said when I was 17 or what my girlfriend looks like rather than, say, the largest program of suspicion-less surveillance in human history,” Snowden wrote.
The 29-year-old former CIA employee and NSA contractor said that he felt compelled to leak classified documents because neither President Obama nor Congress would act to stop the practices.
He said his decision to travel to Hong Kong — a “special administrative region” controlled by China — was justified.
“The U.S. government, just as they did with other whistleblowers, immediately and predictably destroyed any possibility of a fair trial at home, openly declaring me guilty of treason and that the disclosure of secret, criminal, and even unconstitutional acts is an unforgivable crime,” Snowden wrote. “That’s not justice, and it would be foolish to volunteer yourself to it if you can do more good outside of prison than in it.”
Snowden’s motivations have been a constant theme in the NSA storyline since he revealed himself two weeks ago as the source. There have been a host of stories asking why he left his girlfriend, his home in Hawaii and a job making $122,000 in order to risk his freedom.
Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian reporter who broke the first NSA story, has defended Snowden and his decision to come forward. Greenwald said Sunday there’s been an active “smear campaign” against Snowden.
“One of his big concerns with coming out, really his only one, is that he knows that political media loves to dramatize and personalize things,” Greenwald said on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”
“And he was concerned that the focus would distract away from the revelations about what our government is doing onto him personally.”
Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, said he doubts that Snowden’s provocative statements will detract from the broader debate over the NSA’s surveillance activities.
“I don’t think anyone is being asked to believe him or to identify with him. I think the question is: What do we make of the government documents that he disclosed?” said Aftergood, who on Monday published a classified document detailing inspector general investigations into classified leaks.
“Even if he were a raving lunatic, that would not matter,” Aftergood said, adding that he did not think that way of Snowden.