Published June 17, 2013
The former NSA contractor who leaked information on the government's top-secret Internet- and phone-tracking programs on Monday denied being a Chinese spy, calling the speculation a "predictable smear."
Edward Snowden addressed those rumors, and a number of other questions, during an extensive online chat hosted by Guardian.com. From an undisclosed location presumably in Hong Kong, Snowden blasted the U.S. government's surveillance programs and indicated he plans to hunker down in Hong Kong as long as possible.
Snowden was asked directly during the chat about speculation he did or would provide classified material to the Chinese government in exchange for asylum.
"This is a predictable smear that I anticipated before going public, as the US media has a knee-jerk 'RED CHINA!' reaction to anything involving HK or the PRC, and is intended to distract from the issue of US government misconduct," Snowden answered.
"Ask yourself: if I were a Chinese spy, why wouldn't I have flown directly into Beijing? I could be living in a palace petting a phoenix by now."
He later answered that he has had "no contact" with the Chinese government. "I only work with journalists," he said.
Snowden explained that he went to Hong Kong because it was a location with "the cultural and legal framework to allow me to work without being immediately detained."
Meanwhile, Snowden made clear he has no plans to return to the U.S. and face the justice system, saying he could do "more good" outside of prison. The comment could indicate plans to release more materials to the media.
"The US 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. 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 wrote.
He went on to claim he did not reveal any U.S. operations against "legitimate military targets," only those against the "civilian infrastructure."
"All I can say right now is the US Government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me. Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped," Snowden said.
While the information about the surveillance program outraged civil liberties groups and many lawmakers, U.S. officials have also described the leak itself as highly damaging to U.S. security.
Snowden addressed a range of questions after his father, Lon Snowden, told Fox News that he hopes his son decides to return to the U.S. and face trial if necessary. He urged his son to stopping leaking material.
But Edward Snowden gave no indication of plans to leave his current location, and defended his actions.
As for why he decided to furnish the documents to the media, he accused President Obama of failing to live up to campaign promises.
"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," he said in the chat.
Obama, though, has renewed his call to close Guantanamo Bay and is appointing a new envoy for that task.
The spectacle of the high-profile leaker answering questions from the public was unusual. If he were to return to the U.S., he could face serious charges. Former Vice President Dick Cheney went so far on Sunday as to call him a "traitor."
Snowden, though, continued to provide more details about U.S. surveillance programs during the chat. He claimed that U.S. analysts can keep information on online activity -- "all of it" -- for a "very long time" if they simply obtain a waiver, rather than a warrant.