U.S. surveillance leaker Edward Snowden a month ago predicted Washington would demonise him and charge him with espionage, a newly released interview indicated.
Separately, Snowden was honoured by a group of former U.S. national security officers with the Sam Adams Award for revealing the extent of U.S. government domestic and international electronic surveillance.
“I think they are going to say I have committed grave crimes, I have violated the Espionage Act,” Snowden told The Guardian in Hong Kong June 6, before he revealed himself as the source of leaks about National Security Agency surveillance.
“They are going to say I have aided our enemies in making them aware of these systems. But this argument can be made against anyone who reveals information that points out mass surveillance systems,” Snowden said right after The Guardian published the first leak about a court order requiring Verizon Communications Inc. to hand over U.S. customers’ call records to the NSA.
The computer expert faces two charges under the 1917 U.S. Espionage Act – unauthorized communication of national defence information and wilful communication of classified intelligence to an unauthorized person – along with charges of theft of government property.
Snowden fled to Moscow June 23 and is reported stuck in the vast transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport’s international wing.
He has been offered asylum by Venezuela but has not said if he would accept the offer, which he requested.
Bolivia and Nicaragua have also said they could give refuge to Snowden.
He also faces the practical problem of getting to any of these countries.
Cuban President Raul Castro Sunday expressed support for the Latin American offers, which The Washington Post said opened the possibility Snowden could fly through Havana as a first leg on his flight to asylum.
In the interview Snowden, 30, said he first joined the U.S. Army after the invasion of Iraq out of a belief in the goodness of what we were doing. “I believed in the nobility of our intentions to free oppressed people overseas.”
Snowden enlisted in the Army in May 2004 as a Special Forces, or Green Berets, recruit but was discharged four months later after breaking both legs in a training accident.
He then joined the NSA as a security guard before joining the CIA to work on information technology security.
In later jobs in and related to the NSA and CIA, Snowden became increasingly disenchanted as he saw what he said was government propaganda, rather than government truth, increasingly dominate the news, he told the newspaper.
“We were actually involved in misleading the public – and misleading all the publics, not just the American public – in order to create certain mindset in the global consciousness and I was actually a victim of that,” he said in the June 6 interview.
“America is a fundamentally good country. We have good people with good values who want to do the right thing,” he added.
“But the structures of power that exist are working to their own ends to extend their capability at the expense of all publics,” he said.
“Snowden did an amazingly brave act of civil disobedience,” former senior NSA executive Thomas A. Drake said in a statement.
Drake, who won the Sam Adams Award in 2011, was himself indicted under the Espionage Act in 2010 for exposing through The Baltimore Sun waste and fraud in the NSA’s Trailblazer program, intended to develop a capability to analyse Internet and other communications-networks’ data.
In Drake’s case, all 10 original felony charges were dropped in 2011. He agreed to plead guilty to the misdemeanour of exceeding authorized use of a government computer.
Adams, who died in 1988, was a CIA analyst who reported through CBS News the United States purposely underestimated Vietcong and North Vietnamese army troop numbers during the Vietnam War to bolster U.S. claims of progress in the war.