Snowden Says He Hasn’t Given Any Information To Russia Or China

While he still apparently sits in a transit area of the Moscow Airport nearly three weeks after leaving Hong Kong, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden is pushing back on claims that he has shared information with the Russians or the Chinese:

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, in an interview on Saturday and then again Tuesday afternoon, vehemently denied media claims that he gave classified information to the governments of China or Russia. He also denied assertions that one or both governments had succeeded in “draining the contents of his laptops”. “I never gave any information to either government, and they never took anything from my laptops,” he said.

The extraordinary claim that China had drained the contents of Snowden’s laptops first appeared in the New York Times in a June 24 article. The paper published the claim with no evidence and without any attribution to any identified sources.

In lieu of any evidence, the NYT circulated this obviously significant assertion by quoting what it called “two Western intelligence experts” who “worked for major government spy agencies”. Those “experts” were not identified. The article then stated that these experts “said they believedthat the Chinese government had managed to drain the contents of the four laptops that Mr. Snowden said he brought to Hong Kong” (emphasis added).

So that’s how this “China-drained-his-laptops” claim was created: by the New York Times citing two anonymous sources saying they “believed” this happened. From there, it predictably spread everywhere as truth.

Shortly thereafter, the New Yorker – under the headline “Why China Let Snowden Go” - told its readers: “His usefulness was almost exhausted. Intelligence experts cited by the Times believed that the Chinese government ‘had managed to drain the contents of the four laptops that Mr. Snowden said he brought to Hong Kong, and that he said were with him during his stay at a Hong Kong hotel.'” It was then repeatedly cited to demonize Snowden in venues such as DC gossip sheetsright-wing outlets, and diaries at Democratic Party sites.

But there was never any evidence that this was true. The NYT decided to publish this incendiary claim in a news article based purely on rank speculation from two anonymous sources. Obviously, Snowden’s denial is not dispositive and shouldn’t be treated as such. But it is the only actual evidence on this question thus far

This all comes from Glenn Greenwald, so take it with whatever grain of salt that you wish. It’s true, though, that there is no proof that Snowden has shared anything with the Russians or Chinese, either voluntarily or involuntarily. Nonetheless, I’d argue that the suspicions are not unfounded. Both nations would have rather obvious interests in the information that Snowden may have on his person, or on the multiple laptops he is reportedly traveling with. So, it’s hard to believe that they haven’t made some effort to retrieve information from him. Even assuming he didn’t provide the information willingly, the possibility that one or both nations have tried to use surreptitious means to acquire information from him still exists. Indeed, they may have done so without Snowden even being aware of it.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held 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 contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. James Pearce says:

    Obviously, we should take this ex-pat at his word…..


    there is no proof that Snowden has shared anything with the Russians or Chinese

    Well, maybe not while he was seeking asylum. He had to have known, though, that they would read about his revelations in the Guardian.

    So I guess it would be more accurate to say “There’s no proof that Snowden shared anything else with the Russians or Chinese.”

  2. Franklin says:

    Of course he hasn’t given information to Russia or China. He’s given it to everybody!

  3. michael reynolds says:

    You order room service from the hotel. The Russian hotel. You eat and drink. You sleep really, really soundly afterward.

    When you wake up nothing looks suspicious.

    You know, the Russians suck at lots of things, but they have a pretty impressive record in intelligence-gathering. Do they have cameras in his room recording his password as he types it in? Of course they do. Are they tapping his hotel WiFi connection? Of course they are.

  4. stonetools says:

    WEll, I ‘d like to believe him but this is a guy who also said he could eavesdrop on the POTUS phone calls any time he wanted. So, yeah, he has credibility problems.

  5. Jen says:

    Indeed, they may have done so without Snowden even being aware of it.

    Given how incredibly naive Snowden has been about a lot of things, I’d say that there is a better-than-average chance that Michael’s assessment is accurate. I’d only add in the likelihood of a similar meal in China.

  6. CSK says:

    It’s hard to believe he hasn’t slept since fleeing Hawaii, isn’t it? Unless he’s been staying awake 24/7, eyes fixed unblinkingly on those four laptops, anything could have happened.

  7. Anonne says:

    You think this guy is naïve? It is better than 50-50 odds that he very well knows the tech capabilities and methods of the intelligence apparatus, and what he was risking. And you armchair spies call him naïve.

  8. Jen says:

    @Anonne: His actions have been pretty naive. Did he really think his passport wouldn’t be revoked? That’s pretty standard for anyone who is on the run who is under indictment for a federal crime, and yet he seems surprised by this development. He also seemed to think that it would be easy to find asylum in another country, which ignores all of the interdependencies between the US and our large trading partners. He also seems to have a rather inflated sense of what he thinks would happen when he let loose this information–what did he expect would happen?

    He may know the nuts and bolts of the intelligence apparatus, but he does not seem to have a clear understanding of global politics, nor does he appear to have understood how those relationships between governments would impact his decision to flee the country. That’s what I think is naive.

  9. michael reynolds says:

    What was naive was the apparent belief that the American people would rise up in outrage over his “revelations.” Instead there’s been a collective yawn. And now, having had his moment, Snowden faces a lifetime on the run. For what? To make Glenn Greenwald’s career?

  10. al-Ameda says:

    “I never gave any information to either government, and they never took anything from my laptops,”

    Well heck yeah, ya little goof.