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Edward Snowden: I Was More Than Just A ‘Data Analyst’

Edward Snowden 2

In an interview that will be aired tonight on NBC, Edward Snowden asserts that he was more than just a data analyst when he was working for the U.S. Government:

WASHINGTON — Edward J. Snowden says he was not merely a “low-level analyst” writing computer code for American spies, as President Obama and other administration officials have portrayed him. Instead, he says, he was a trained spy who worked under assumed names overseas for the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency.

Mr. Snowden’s claims were made in a television interview to be broadcast Wednesday evening by NBC News. They added a new twist to the yearlong public relations battle between the administration and Mr. Snowden, who is living under asylum in Moscow to escape prosecution for leaking thousands of classified files detailing extensive American surveillance programs at home and abroad.

“I was trained as a spy in sort of the traditional sense of the word in that I lived and worked undercover overseas — pretending to work in a job that I’m not — and even being assigned a name that was not mine,” Mr. Snowden told Brian Williams of NBC News, in an excerpt released in advance of the full interview.

The N.S.A., which has described Mr. Snowden as an information technology contractor, has not commented on the new claims.

Mr. Snowden also addressed how he wound up in Russia after initially fleeing to Hong Kong.

“The reality is I never intended to end up in Russia,” he said in a second excerpt broadcast on NBC’s “Today Show.” “I had a flight booked to Cuba onwards to Latin America, and I was stopped because the United States government decided to revoke my passport and trap me in Moscow Airport. So when people ask why are you in Russia, I say, ‘Please ask the State Department.’ ”

That comment drew a sharp reaction from Secretary of State John Kerry, in an interview on the same program. “For a supposedly smart guy, that’s a pretty dumb answer, frankly,” Mr. Kerry said. He added: “He can come home, but he’s a fugitive from justice, which is why he’s not being permitted to fly around the world. It’s that simple.”

Mr. Snowden suggested that the government was deliberately playing down his role as a spy, although in the excerpt he did not say why.

“They’re trying to use one position that I’ve had in a career here or there to distract from the totality of my experience,” he said, “which is that I’ve worked for the Central Intelligence Agency undercover overseas, I’ve worked for the National Security Agency undercover overseas and I’ve worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency as a lecturer at the Joint Counterintelligence Training Academy, where I developed sources and methods for keeping our information and people secure in the most hostile and dangerous environments around the world.”

Mr. Snowden said, however, that he had not been the kind of spy depicted by Hollywood who embeds himself in glamorous overseas locations to extract information through interpersonal connections.

“I am a technical specialist,” he said. “I am a technical expert. I don’t work with people. I don’t recruit agents. What I do is I put systems to work for the United States. And I’ve done that at all levels from — from the bottom on the ground all the way to the top. Now, the government might deny these things, they might frame it in certain ways and say, ‘Oh well, you know, he’s — he’s a low level analyst.’ ”

The Federal Government has been much more circumspect in describing the nature of Snowden’s employment with various government agencies before becoming an NSA contractor with Booz-Allen-Hamilton. However, it has apparently been confirmed that Snowden was indeed a lecturer for the D.I.A. as he claims in the interview. It’s understandable, of course, why the government would choose to downplay Snowden’s role. First of all, to the extent that other nations might be interested in what he knows admitting publicly that he was a clandestine agent of some kind would be the last thing the U.S. would want to do. Secondly, the agencies that Snowden says he worked for almost never comment on whether or not a specific person is an employee, most especially not when they are clandestine. The final reason that the government likely characterized Snowden as a mere “data analyst” in its public statements is likely part of a general campaign to needle him from afar by dismissing his relative importance.

In another excerpt of the interview that has been released, Snowden blames the fact that he ended up in Russia on the State Department:

Edward Snowden, in an exclusive interview with “Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams, blamed the State Department for stranding him in Russia, saying he “never intended” to wind up there.

“I personally am surprised that I ended up here,” Snowden said in the interview, an excerpt of which aired on TODAY on Wednesday morning.

“The reality is I never intended to end up in Russia,” he said. “I had a flight booked to Cuba onwards to Latin America and I was stopped because the United States government decided to revoke my passport and trap me in Moscow Airport.

“So when people ask why are you in Russia, I say, ‘Please ask the State Department.”

I’m generally sympathetic to Snowden’s cause, if not the manner in which he went about doing things, but this strikes me as just a bit silly. As a literal matter, I suppose, it’s true that Snowden ended up trapped in Russia because his passport had been suspended, but that happened after he’d been indicted and suspension of a criminal defendant’s passport is fairly standard procedure in those cases. Especially in a case such as this where it was apparent that, if he could, Snowden intended to escape to a nation such as Venezuela, Bolivia, or Ecuador where he would be beyond the extradition powers of the United States Government. Under those circumstances, allowing him to freely travel internationally would have been malpractice.

In any case, it will be interesting to see what else Snowden has to say. In the meantime, here’ s video of the excerpts that NBC has released:

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. al-Ameda says:

    “I am a technical specialist,” he said. “I am a technical expert. I don’t work with people. I don’t recruit agents. What I do is I put systems to work for the United States. And I’ve done that at all levels from — from the bottom on the ground all the way to the top. Now, the government might deny these things, they might frame it in certain ways and say, ‘Oh well, you know, he’s — he’s a low level analyst.’ 

    He’s really looking for approval, isn’t he? He wants to be recognized as an expert. There’s not just a little bit of ego and narcissism at play here.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  2. dazedandconfused says:

    There is so much fail in his statements. He didn’t know his passport would be suspended? He thinks those nations were helpless and had no choice but to trap him in Russia? His handlers either wanted him in Russia or have much to be ashamed of.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  3. C. Clavin says:

    Why is this guy still looking for attention?
    His 00:15 are up.
    Enjoy the Russian winters, fool.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  4. Gustopher says:

    As a literal matter, I suppose, it’s true that Snowden ended up trapped in Russia because his passport had been suspended, but that happened after he’d been indicted and suspension of a criminal defendant’s passport is fairly standard procedure in those cases. Especially in a case such as this where it was apparent that, if he could, Snowden intended to escape to a nation such as Venezuela, Bolivia, or Ecuador where he would be beyond the extradition powers of the United States Government. Under those circumstances, allowing him to freely travel internationally would have been malpractice.

    So, the US government decided that rather than let him flee to Venezuala (or Bolivia, or Equador), they would prefer he end up in Russia? He’s outside the extradition powers one way or the other, but in South America he wouldn’t be in Russia’s hands.

    I’m not sure it would have been such a bad idea to let him continue on his way.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  5. Mr. X says:

    I can’t wait to see what happens to this traitor once Putin realizes he is out of intel.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  6. James Pearce says:

    @Gustopher:

    So, the US government decided that rather than let him flee to Venezuala (or Bolivia, or Equador), they would prefer he end up in Russia?

    Actually, if we’re talking of the order of preferences, I think the US government would prefer their spies didn’t leak classified info.

    And that if they do, the preference would be for prison, not for asylum at one of our lesser rivals.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  7. dazedandconfused says:

    @Gustopher:

    He may have fallen into their hands and somebody had to make a snap decision. What I want to know is why, of all the ways to route the guy to South American, they chose to go through Moscow. I suspect Russian intelligence had a mole in with his wiki-geek pals, and that person may also had to make a snap decision. It’s the kind of opportunity that only one in a hundred of them might have during in a career. If they had had time, why not get him a fake passport?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  8. Mikey says:

    “So when people ask why are you in Russia, I say, ‘Please ask the State Department.”

    Jesus Christ. How stupid does this narcissistic quasi-traitor think people are?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  9. al-Ameda says:

    @James Pearce:

    Actually, if we’re talking of the order of preferences, I think the US government would prefer their spies didn’t leak classified info.

    lol

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  10. wr says:

    Ohh, look, Snowden is icky so we can all pretend that what he exposed isn’t a massive betrayal of the American people by its government! It’s just like wise Michael Kinsley who understands that the first amendment should only apply to likeable people, and that the government should be able to jail any journalist who doesn’t have enough friends working in the establishment.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  11. Tillman says:

    This guy just doesn’t do himself any favors.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  12. stonetools says:

    Ohh, look, Snowden is icky so we can all pretend that what he exposed isn’t a massive betrayal of the American people by its government

    Oddly enough, he hasn’t exposed any crimes. So while a lot of what he has exposed has made a lot of people queasy, he hasn’t really uncovered any wrongdoing-while giving up a lot of classified information and embarrassing the USA abroad.

    In the end , I think Snowden’s actions will be seen as well meaning, but stupid and not really amounting to much.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  13. Kathy Kattenburg says:

    “… but this strikes me as just a bit silly.”

    It’s also silly for the Obama administration to criticize Snowden for “choosing” to seek asylum in Russia, since he obviously had no choice in the matter given the revocation of his passport. And that’s the question he’s responding to. He’s not arguing the substantive merits or demerits of having had his passport revoked. He’s responding to a question about why he chose to seek asylum in Russia. And he chose to seek asylum in Russia because that’s where he was when the U.S. revoked his passport. And Kerry knows that. Kerry’s the one who’s being disingenuous and silly.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  14. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    Snowden’s “ask the State Department” answer sounds like the thing the bad guy always says in the crime movies–“if you don’t do what I say, I’m going to kill all these people and then you’ll have their deaths on your hands.”

    In the case of the movie, the bad guy is usually deranged. What’s Snowden’s excuse?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  15. Mikey says:

    @stonetools:

    In the end , I think Snowden’s actions will be seen as well meaning, but stupid and not really amounting to much.

    Stupid, yes, but unfortunately amounting to a great deal. The damage to America’s intelligence apparatus is still being calculated, but I can tell you it is both wide and deep. In addition to compromising programs that did not even have the debatable Fourth Amendment implications of metadata collection, he put our people working abroad in danger, enabled the murderous Putin and Chinese government to claim moral high ground, and caused a near halt to inter-agency cooperation.

    But one thing he did do is promote himself and feed his outsized ego, so I guess he’s got that going for him.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  16. Lounsbury says:

    ‘Hmmm. well after viewing his comments, I can’t say that one is terribly impressed with the clarity of his planning and judgment skills. This perhaps does shed light on his rather ill-conceived interviewing of Putin. He probably actually, genuinely, thought he was doing something clever there.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. al-Ameda says:

    @Kathy Kattenburg:

    It’s also silly for the Obama administration to criticize Snowden for “choosing” to seek asylum in Russia, since he obviously had no choice in the matter given the revocation of his passport. And that’s the question he’s responding to.

    I’m surprised that Glenn Greenwald didn’t offer Snowden a place to stay near his place in Brazil.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  18. John425 says:

    If he really was a spy then he is a turncoat. I think they call that treason.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  19. dazedandconfused says:

    @al-Ameda:

    He may well have done that, but picked an incredibly naive way of getting him there. Wikigeeks and Greenwald appear to be as short on trade craft as they are long on ambition. Manning, and now Snowden.

    Sy Hersh has been doing this stuff for decades but how many of his sources got treed?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0