Now that he has made explosive headlines across the world as the whistleblower who yanked the covers off the extensive U.S. surveillance system used to spy on Americans, Edward Snowden further explained his motives to the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. In the interview he calls himself “neither traitor nor hero.”
“I’m an American,” he said in an interview with Morning Post reporter Lana Lam that was published today. Snowden, 29, said he would be staying in Hong Kong until he is “asked to leave.”
“People who think I made a mistake in picking Hong Kong as a location misunderstand my intentions,” Snowden told the Post. “I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality.”
Snowden added that he had “faith” in Hong Kong’s justice system, and that his “intention is to ask the courts and people of Hong Kong to decide [his] fate.”
Snowden’s revelations have rocked Washington insiders and the entire U.S. intelligence community. The former CIA employee, who was working as a contractor at the U.S. National Security Agency, said he acted because his conscience compelled him to protect “basic liberties for people around the world.”
Snowden said he was disillusioned over President Obama’s continuation and expansion of the comprehensive surveillance program started under George Bush.
Snowden first did a video interview with the Guardian newspaper, dated June 6, that was posted on its website.
“I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things … I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under,” the calm, bespectacled former technical assistant said.
He said he had thought a great deal before coming forward with details of the NSA program, code-named PRISM, saying he did it because he felt the United States was building an unaccountable and secret espionage apparatus that spied on every American.
Snowden had been working for the NSA as a contractor employed with Booz Allen Hamilton, a company that has received billions of U.S. government dollars to partly oversee the extensive surveillance system, but the company has since fired him, according to press reports.
“The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything,” Snowden said during his first interview with the Guardian. “With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.”
According to The Guardian’s Ewen MacAskill, Snowden checked out of Hong Kong’s Mira Hotel on Monday, fearing that he would be found.
“It is thought he is now in a safe house,” MacAskill said on Tuesday.
Though Snowden has not made any requests for asylum, he told the Post that he would fight any attempts by the United States to have him extradited in the Hong Kong court system. According to report, the Russians have also said they would consider granting Snowden asylum if he requested it.
The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, who Snowden contacted months ago with the top-secret information, told The Associated Press that Snowden went to Hong Kong because he feared he would not be given a fair trial in the U.S.
“If the Justice Department does end up indicting him, which almost certainly it will — it’s basically inevitable at this point — he doesn’t really trust the judicial system in the United States to give him a fair trial,” Greenwald said.
Newspapers in Hong Kong and around the world have written stories about Snowden’s girlfriend, 28-year-old Lindsay Mills, a dancer who posted partially nude photographs on herself online before she also apparently disappeared. Papers have published a shot of Mills in a provocative pose taken from her blog, which has since dropped offline.