Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who achieved international prominence earlier this year by leaking details of the agency's gathering of phone and Internet records to newspapers in the U.S. and Great Britain, has said that his "mission's already accomplished" and claimed that he's "working to improve the NSA."
In an interview with The Washington Post published Tuesday, Snowden, who was granted temporary asylum in Russia August 1, said "I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself.”
Beginning in June, Snowden leaked documents to the Post and The Guardian newspaper in Britain outlining the government's collection of of bulk Internet and phone records, an activity that has grown dramatically in 12 years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
President Barack Obama hinted Friday that he would consider some changes to NSA's bulk collection of Americans' phone records to address the public's concern about privacy. His comments came in a week in which a federal judge declared the NSA's collection program probably was unconstitutional. A presidential advisory panel has suggested 46 changes to NSA operations.
The effects of Snowden's revelations have been evident in the courts, Congress, Silicon Valley and capitals around the world, where even U.S. allies have reacted angrily to reports of U.S. monitoring of their leaders' cellphone calls. Brazil and members of the European Union are considering ways to better protect their data and U.S. technology companies such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo are looking at ways to block the collection of data by the government.
Snowden's disclosures have led him to be accused of treason by many members of government, including House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich. When asked why he felt entitled to take on the responsibility of leaking the information, Snowden replied "They elected me. The overseers.
"[Senate Intelligence Committee Chair] Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) elected me when she asked softball questions .. Mike Rogers elected me when he kept these programs hidden. . . . The FISA court elected me when they decided to legislate from the bench on things that were far beyond the mandate of what that court was ever intended to do. The system failed comprehensively, and each level of oversight, each level of responsibility that should have addressed this, abdicated their responsibility."
Snowden also shrugged off accusations of disloyalty.
"The oath of allegiance is not an oath of secrecy," he told the Post. "That is an oath to the Constitution. That is the oath that I kept that [NSA Director] Keith Alexander and [Director of National Intelligence] James Clapper did not.
"I am not trying to bring down the NSA, I am working to improve the NSA," Snowden continued. "I am still working for the NSA right now. They are the only ones who don’t realize it."
Asked about the Snowden interview, White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told the Associated Press: "Mr. Snowden faces felony charges here in the United States and should be returned to the U.S. as soon as possible, where he will be afforded due process and all the protections of our criminal justice system."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.