Edward Snowden: I worked as a spy at all levels

Fugitive gives first US TV interview, to air today, since leaking documents last year

Edward Snowden.
Edward Snowden.

American fugitive intelligence leaker Edward Snowden "trained as a spy" and worked "undercover overseas" for intelligence agencies, he told NBC News in excerpts of an interview to air today.

In his first TV interview with United States media, Snowden hit back at claims that he was merely a low-level contractor, saying he worked "at all levels - from the bottom on the ground, all the way to the top".

Snowden, who has been charged in the United States with espionage, was granted asylum by Russia in August after shaking the American intelligence establishment to its core with a series of leaks on mass surveillance in the United States and around the world.

In the interview, taped last week and to air today, Snowden defended himself against claims minimising his intelligence experience before he stole and leaked a trove of classified documents revealing the National Security Agency's programme of phone and internet surveillance.

"Well, it's no secret that the US tends to get more and better intelligence out of computers nowadays than they do out of people," Snowden told NBC news anchor Brian Williams.

They met in the Kempinski Hotel in Moscow, Russia, after months of negotiations for a talk that lasted more than four hours, the New York Times reported.

"I was trained as a spy in sort of the traditional sense of the word in that I lived and worked undercover overseas - pretending to work in a job that I'm not - and even being assigned a name that was not mine," he said.

He said he had worked covertly as "a technical expert" for the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, and as a trainer for the Defence Intelligence Agency.

"I don't work with people. I don't recruit agents. What I do is I put systems to work for the United States. And I've done that at all levels - from the bottom on the ground all the way to the top," Snowden said.

He said he had lectured at the Joint Counterintelligence Training Academy "where I developed sources and methods for keeping our information and people secure in the most hostile and dangerous environments around the world".

"So when they say I'm a low-level systems administrator, that I don't know what I'm talking about, I'd say it's somewhat misleading."

Snowden said: "What they're trying to do is they're trying to use one position that I've had in a career here or there to distract from the totality of my experience."

Snowden, who left high school at 15 years old without graduating, made his revelations three months into his new job with the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton as a systems administrator based at the NSA's threat operations centre in Hawaii.

Following the leaks, he proceeded to Hong Kong unaccompanied, where he checked into a hotel without a plan.

On June 23 he headed to Moscow, two days after his 30th birthday, where he holed up in the Sheremetyevo Airport for days before he was eventually granted asylum. He is believed to have taken 1.7 million documents.

Meanwhile, the US House of Representatives passed landmark reforms last week curbing bulk collection of Americans' telephone records, the first step toward restricting intelligence-gathering by the NSA since Snowden divulged the secret programme.

- AFP

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