June 17, 2013

NSA leaker Snowden says he can't get fair trial in U.S.

ELLEN NAKASHIMA and SARI HORWITZ The Washington Post

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A bus drives past a banner supporting Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee who leaked top-secret documents about sweeping U.S. surveillance programs, at Central, Hong Kong's business district, Tuesday, June 18, 2013. Snowden, the National Security Agency leaker, is defending his disclosure of top-secret U.S. spying programs in an online chat Monday with Britain's Guardian newspaper and attacked U.S. officials for calling him a traitor. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

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In answering questions for 90 minutes, Snowden defended himself and sought to justify his actions. "All I can say right now is the U.S. government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me," he said. "Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped."

The leaks, which covered two extensive NSA electronic surveillance programs, sparked an international debate and led to praise and condemnation for the former Maryland resident.

Snowden said leaving the United States "was an incredible risk" because NSA employees must declare any foreign travel 30 days in advance. He told his employers that he was taking time off for medical treatment.

"There was a distinct possibility I would be interdicted en route, so I had to travel with no advance booking to a country with the cultural and legal framework to allow me to work without being immediately detained," he said.

While in Hong Kong, he showed documents to the South China Morning Post newspaper that said the U.S. government had hacked into hundreds of targets in Hong Kong and mainland China.

He defended his leak Monday, saying he did not reveal any operations against legitimate military targets. "I pointed out where the NSA has hacked civilian infrastructure such as universities, hospitals and private businesses because it is dangerous," he said. "These nakedly, aggressive criminal acts are wrong no matter the target."

He also responded to speculation by former Vice President Dick Cheney and others that he provided classified information to the Chinese government in exchange for asylum. "I have had no contact with the Chinese government," he said. "Ask yourself: If I were a Chinese spy, why wouldn't I have flown directly into Beijing?"

Snowden also criticized the Obama administration for what he called "overly harsh responses to public-interest whistleblowing," citing prosecutions of several government employees accused of leaking classified information. Among the cases he mentioned was that of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, who faces possible life in prison in a court-martial, underway at Fort Meade in Maryland, over his leaking of documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.

"These draconian responses simply build better whistleblowers," he said. "If the Obama administration responds with an even harsher hand against me, they can be assured that they'll soon find themselves facing an equally hard public response."

 

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