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Snowden: Russia, China Didn't Get Data

  • RFE/RL

Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden

American intelligence leaker Edward Snowden says he’s confident Russia and China haven't obtained any of the secret documents he took from the National Security Agency (NSA).

In a new interview with "The New York Times," Snowden said he gave all the documents to journalists he met in Hong Kong before flying to Moscow in June, and did not keep any copies for himself.

He said he decided not to take the materials to Russia because "it wouldn’t serve the public interest."

Snowden said that, while in Hong Kong, he was able to protect the documents from Chinese spies because of his specialized training.

He said his work for U.S. intelligence had included targeting Chinese operations and teaching a course on Chinese cybercounterintelligence.

Snowden said there was "zero chance" that Russia or China got access to any classified U.S. documents he was carrying.

Snowden, who worked as a contractor at an NSA facility in Hawaii, said he believes the NSA knows that he has not cooperated with Russian or Chinese agents.

No comment from the NSA on Snowden's claims was immediately available.

U.S. officials have expressed grave concern that the files taken by Snowden might have fallen into the hands of foreign intelligence services. Some politicians and other observers have condemned him as a traitor.

"The New York Times" said the interview with Snowden took place through encrypted online communications over several days in the past week.

Snowden, 30, has been the source of disclosures that have appeared in newspapers around the world revealing that the U.S. government collects vast amounts of telephone and Internet records worldwide.

President Barack Obama and U.S. intelligence officials have defended the surveillance programs, saying they are a legal and valuable tool that helps to thwart terrorist attacks. They say measures are in place to prevent the programs from being abused or trampling the privacy rights of Americans.

Critics say the programs are excessive, have insufficient oversight, infringe on the constitutionally guaranteed rights of Americans, and do little to counter real terrorist threats.

Russia has granted Snowden asylum for at least one year. He is believed to be living at an undisclosed location in the Moscow area.

U.S. authorities have charged him with espionage and want him returned to the United States to face trial.

In the interview, Snowden said he believed he was acting in the nation’s best interests by revealing information about the NSA’s operations to collect huge troves of communications data, including that of Americans.

He said he believes he has helped American national security by prompting a public debate about the scope of the intelligence effort.

He was quoted as saying that the "secret continuance of these programs represents a far greater danger than their disclosure."

In a related development, U.S. officials said the director of the NSA, General Keith Alexander, is expected to retire next year, in the spring, after eight years in the job.

Officials said Alexander’s decision to leave was not connected to the controversy over Snowden’s leaks.
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