NSA leaker: Being called traitor by Dick Cheney is high honor

NSA leaker Edward Snowden said Monday that the United States can’t cover up its National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance activities by “by jailing or murdering me.” [WATCH VIDEO]

“Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped,” Snowden wrote in a Q&A posted on The Guardian website Monday morning.           

In the Q&A moderated by Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, Snowden said that he left for Hong Kong because the U.S. government had destroyed any possibility that he would receive a fair trial.

"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," he 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."

Asked whether he had or would give classified information to the Chinese in exchange for asylum, Snowden said that was a "predictable smear" he'd anticipated before going public. 

"Ask yourself: if I were a Chinese spy, why wouldn't I have flown directly into Beijing?" Snowden wrote. "I could be living in a palace petting a phoenix by now."

He defended leaking documents to Greenwald and The Washington Post that revealed the NSA’s programs collecting telephone and online records, arguing he did nothing that put people at harm.

“Let's be clear: I did not reveal any U.S. operations against legitimate military targets,” Snowden said. “I pointed out where the NSA has hacked civilian infrastructure such as universities, hospitals, and private businesses because it is dangerous. These nakedly, aggressively criminal acts are wrong no matter the target.”

Snowden has come under heavy criticism from U.S. lawmakers, with Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerWe need more congressional oversight on matters of war A warning to Ryan’s successor: The Speakership is no cakewalk With Ryan out, let’s blow up the process for selecting the next Speaker MORE (R-Ohio), former Vice President Dick Cheney and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinTrump’s CIA pick facing brutal confirmation fight This week: Senate barrels toward showdown over Pompeo Sunday Shows Preview: Emmanuel Macron talks ahead of state dinner MORE (D-Calif.), all labeling him a traitor. He was also fired from Booz Allen Hamilton, his most recent employer.

In the chat, he described being criticized by Cheney as a high honor.

"Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American, and the more panicked talk we hear from people like him, Feinstein, and King, the better off we all are," he said.

He also commented on the media coverage of his leaks, complaining that the focus shifted too much toward him — and his girlfriend — rather than the NSA’s surveillance activities.

“Initially I was very encouraged,” he said. “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 suspicionless surveillance in human history.”

The whereabouts of Snowden, a 29-year-old former CIA employee, remain unknown since he revealed himself last week in Hong Kong as the source of the NSA leaks.

Asked about Snowden’s chat, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said that the White House was “monitoring the news as we do every day” but was doing “nothing special just for this.”

On Monday, Snowden weighed in on some of the questions and criticisms that have arisen since he first revealed himself.

He explained that he did not have a $200,000 salary at Booz Allen, as he had stated in his first interview with Greenwald. The contractor said afterward he was in fact paid $122,000.

“The statement I made about earnings was that $200,000 was my ‘career high’ salary,” Snowden wrote. “I had to take pay cuts in the course of pursuing specific work. Booz was not the most I've been paid.”

Snowden also said why he chose to go to Hong Kong, which is a “special administrative region” controlled by China — a country not known for its record of free speech.

In his first interview, Snowden had said he wanted seek asylum in Iceland, but he said Monday that he was concerned about getting detained. Because NSA employees must declare foreign travel 30 days in advance, he said he was concerned he would be stopped en route.

“I had to travel with no advance booking to a country with the cultural and legal framework to allow me to work without being immediately detained. Hong Kong provided that,” Snowden said. “Iceland could be pushed harder, quicker, before the public could have a chance to make their feelings known, and I would not put that past the current U.S. administration.”

The NSA leaker also explained why he had waited to disclose the documents when he said he wanted to say something since before Obama was elected.

Snowden said that he had hoped Obama would fix the problem and change the system, but that did not occur.

“Unfortunately, shortly after assuming power, he closed the door on investigating systemic violations of law, deepened and expanded several abusive programs, and refused to spend the political capital to end the kind of human rights violations like we see in Guantanamo, where men still sit without charge,” Snowden wrote.

—This story was posted at 11:20 a.m. and last updated at 1:39 p.m.