There is “no doubt” the U.S. engages in industrial espionage, Edward Snowden said in an interview in which he also asserted that he worked alone in disclosing mass surveillance by the National Security Agency.
The former U.S. government contractor, now a fugitive in Russia, told a German television station that if a company such as Germany’s Siemens AG were found to have information useful to the U.S. government, the NSA would use it, he said.
Snowden dismissed accusations from members of Congress that he acted as a foreign agent.
“I worked alone; I didn’t need anybody’s help,” Snowden said in the interview with German broadcaster ARD. He said the wealth of data he took is now in the hands of journalists and that the U.S. public benefited from knowing what the government was doing.
“If I’m a traitor, who did I betray?” Snowden asked.
Snowden, 30, faces charges of theft and espionage and is in Russia on temporary asylum. Attorney General Eric Holder said last week that if Snowden wanted to return to the U.S. and plead guilty, prosecutors would be willing to negotiate.
U.S. legislators including Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, have suggested that Snowden had outside help to lay bare the workings of U.S. intelligence.
Snowden said his disclosure of the NSA surveillance was “the right thing to do” and that he meant to raise awareness about U.S. authorities who “create systems that see everything.”
Snowden “is not going to come back and face an espionage prosecution,” Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project, who has advised Snowden, said yesterday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
He is the victim of a “smear effort” to characterize him as a spy, she said. “He’s been punished quite a bit already,” by being “rendered stateless by the United States government revoking his passport” while he was in Russia, Radack said.
Speaking on the same show, former U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said “legitimate questions have been raised” about whether Snowden could be called a spy.
While Snowden can “certainly get a fair trial” if he returns to the U.S., there’s a “high likelihood” he will be convicted, said Chertoff, who served under President George W. Bush and is senior counsel at Covington & Burling LLP in Washington.
“If he decides he wants to come back and wants to tell the U.S. government everything he stole, which is important, he might be able to bargain for some kind of a reduced sentence,” Chertoff said.
Even so, “I don’t think we’re talking about amnesty,” Chertoff said, adding that Snowden’s punishment may involve “maybe life in prison, maybe 30 years, maybe 25 years. But not something that would be a slap on the wrist.”
Snowden told German television that there were “significant threats” to his life.
“I’ll never be fully safe until these systems have changed,” Snowden said.