(Corrects paraphrasing of Fiterman comment in 14th paragraph of story published June 17.)
Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked classified documents about government surveillance programs, said he didn’t reveal any U.S. 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,” Snowden said during an Internet question-and-answer session today on the website of U.K.’s Guardian newspaper.
Snowden’s identity on the chat couldn’t be independently verified.
The Obama administration has confirmed the existence of two surveillance programs following Snowden’s disclosures -- one designed to collect phone call records from millions of U.S. citizens and another that monitors the Internet activity of foreigners with links to terrorism.
“These nakedly, aggressively criminal acts are wrong no matter the target,” Snowden said on the website. Snowden added that after his leak, the government “immediately and predictably destroyed any possibility of a fair trial at home, openly declaring me guilty of treason and that the disclosure of secret, criminal and even unconstitutional acts is an unforgivable crime.”
The disclosures by the 29-year-old former Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH) Holding Corp. employee to the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers sparked a criminal investigation by the Justice Department, calls for the surveillance to be reined in and a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union accusing the government of violating citizens’ privacy.
Snowden, 29, fled to Hong Kong May 20 before revealing himself as the source of the leak. Several U.S. lawmakers have called the leaks treason and urged the Justice Department to seek Snowden’s extradition and charges against him.
Snowden on the website today called his decision to leave the U.S. “an incredible risk” and said he chose Hong Kong because it had “the cultural and legal framework to allow me to work without immediately being detained.”
He said he has “had no contact with the Chinese government” and speculation that he would provide classified information to foreign governments in exchange for asylum is “a predictable smear” that he anticipated.
“Just like with the Guardian and the Washington Post, I only work with journalists,” Snowden said.
Attorney General Eric Holder called the disclosures “extremely damaging” at a meeting with European Union officials in Ireland last week.
“I can assure you that we will hold accountable the person responsible for those extremely damaging leaks,” Holder said.
U.S. prosecutors are in the midst of putting together charges against Snowden, according to two officials briefed on the investigation.
Snowden risks being caught by participating in an online chat as authorities probably know where he is, said Eric Fiterman, a former FBI agent who founded the Washington-based cybersecurity company Spotkick.
Snowden is likely trying to “drum up” public support because he realizes the U.S. government probably will charge him with breaking the law and seek to extradite him to the U.S., Fiterman said in an e-mail.
“He’s very much out of his element and from the beginning it’s been clear he hadn’t thought through a game plan,” Fiterman said. “He may be very caught up with his celebrity status at the moment and is not thinking clearly about the implications.”
Snowden said more detail on the NSA’s access “is coming,” and he questioned the restraints placed on the U.S. government in targeting domestic communications.
“Americans’ communications are collected and viewed on a daily basis on the certification of an analyst rather than a warrant,” Snowden said. “They excuse this as ‘incidental’ collection, but at the end of the day, someone at NSA still has the content of your communications.”
Federal officials have pushed back on reports that analysts have the ability to tap into domestic communications without a warrant.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, in a statement released last night, said the claim “that a single analyst can eavesdrop on domestic communications without proper legal authorization is incorrect.”
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jodi Schneider at firstname.lastname@example.org