A 29-year-old American who claims he worked for the National Security Agency (NSA) and the CIA has admitted he leaked information to newspapers about secret U.S. surveillance programs.
Edward Snowden said he acted because he felt his country was building an unaccountable and secret espionage machine that spied on every American.
"I think that the public is owed an explanation of the motivations behind the people who make these disclosures that are outside the democratic model. When you are subverting the power of government, that is a fundamentally dangerous thing to democracy," Snowden said.
Based on the information gained from Snowden, "The Washington Post" and Britain's "Guardian" published stories last week detailing how U.S. security services had monitored data about phone calls from Verizon and Internet data from large companies such as Google and Facebook.
Snowden said claims the programs are secure are not true.
"Any analyst at any time can target anyone. Any selector. Anywhere. Where those communications will be picked up depends on the range of those sensor networks and the authority that that analyst is empowered with," Snowden said. "Not all analysts have the power to target anything. But I, sitting at my desk, had the authority to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president if I had a personal e-mail."
On June 9, "The Guardian" released Snowden's name at his own request. It also posted an interview with him from Hong Kong, where Snowden is believed to have fled.
The CIA declined to comment.
U.S. officials said the revelations were dangerous and irresponsible.
U.S. House Intelligence Committee member Peter King on June 9 called for Snowden to be "extradited from Hong Kong immediately."
On June 7, President Barack Obama defended the counterterrorism methods and said Americans need to "make some choices" in balancing privacy and security.
Obama and other officials said the programs are strictly controlled and authorized by Congress.
Shortly after Snowden's admission, the U.S. Justice Department announced it is in the initial stages of a criminal investigation into the unauthorized disclosure of secret information related to the case.
"The Guardian" said Snowden had been working at the NSA for four years as a contractor for outside companies, including Booz Hamilton and Dell.
In the video interview, Snowden said he was ultimately hoping that Iceland, which values Internet freedom, might grant him asylum.
With reporting by AP and Reuters