Edward Snowden: I Was More Than Just A ‘Data Analyst’
For the first time, Edward Snowden is talking to the American media.
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: