National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, in an exclusive interview with Vanity Fair, directly challenged NSA accusations that the ex-contractor never filed formal concerns about extralegal bulk surveillance programs before leaking them to global media outlets.
“The NSA at this point not only knows I raised complaints, but that there is evidence that I made my concerns known to the NSA’s lawyers, because I did some of it through e-mail,” Snowden said.
“I directly challenge the NSA to deny that I contacted NSA oversight and compliance bodies directly via e-mail and that I specifically expressed concerns about their suspect interpretation of the law, and I welcome members of Congress to request a written answer to this question [from the NSA].”
NSA Deputy Director Rick Ledgett headed the internal investigation into Snowden, which concluded the former contractor never filed any formal complaints to his superiors or agency oversight personnel, despite statements to the contrary by Snowden. Ledgett told Vanity Fair that if such complaints were made on a personal level, no one at the agency has come forward to verify them.
“It was like getting kicked in the stomach,” Ledgett said about feeling personally betrayed after discovering Snowden was the source of the leaks.
Snowden took the opportunity to try and dispel a cache of rumors that have emerged in headlines since outing himself as the leaker last year. One of those included the allegation that Snowden had been flipped and was spying for a foreign government, such as Russia or China.
“My hope was that avoiding ambiguity would prevent spy accusations and create more room for reasonable debate. Unfortunately, a few of the less responsible members of Congress embraced the spy charges for political reasons, as they still do to this day,” Snowden said while explaining how he used his personal credit card to pay for the Hong Kong hotel he fled to after leaving the U.S. to counter any paid, covert-spy allegations.
“But I don’t think it was a bad idea, because even if they won’t say it in public, intelligence-community officials are regularly confirming to journalists off the record that they know with a certainty that I am not an agent of any foreign government.”
Snowden squashed rumors about the millions of classified documents he’s in possession of, saying that number was purposefully misrepresented by government officials as the number of documents he accessed over the entirety of his career.
“Look at the language officials use in sworn testimony about these records: ‘could have,’ ‘may have,’ ‘potentially.’ They’re prevaricating,” Snowden said.
“Every single one of those officials knows I don’t have 1.7 million files, but what are they going to say? What senior official is going to go in front of Congress and say, ‘We have no idea what he has, because the NSA’s auditing of systems holding hundreds of millions of Americans’ data is so negligent that any high-school dropout can walk out the door with it?’”
The former contractor said he is not in possession of any “doomsday cache” of sensitive national security information that would be released upon his capture, and described himself as a political moderate, laughing off media pundits’ popular description of him as a “right-winger.”
“What we’re seeing today in America is a new political movement that crosses party lines,” Snowden said. “This post-terror generation rejects the idea that we have to burn down our village in order to save it — that the only way to defend the Constitution is to tear it up.”
A German politician interviewed by the magazine confirmed Snowden was interested in seeking asylum in Germany, but that he wished mostly to go home.
“Every person remembers some moment in their life where they witnessed some injustice, big or small, and looked away, because the consequences of intervening seemed too intimidating,” Snowden said. “But there’s a limit to the amount of incivility and inequality and inhumanity that each individual can tolerate. I crossed that line. And I’m no longer alone.”
The May issue of Vanity Fair which contains the interview in its entirety, along with other key players in the ongoing Snowden drama, comes out Thursday, April 10.