National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden wants to return to the United States, but he believes he would not be able to get a fair trial because current whistle-blower protection laws do not cover NSA contractors.
In what was billed as a live online chat, Snowden said his return “is the best resolution for the government, the public, and myself, but it’s unfortunately not possible.
“This is especially frustrating,” he wrote, “because it means there’s no chance to have a fair trial, and no way I can come home and make my case to a jury.”
Snowden responded to questions submitted by Twitter users with the hashtag #AskSnowden. His answers were posted toFreeSnowden.is, a fundraising website launched last year in support of his asylum. In May 2013, Snowden fled the United States to Hong Kong before he was granted asylum in Russia.
The 30-year-old fugitive also denied a report that he stole passwords and misled co-workers at the agency. “I never stole any passwords, nor did I trick an army of co-workers,” Snowden wrote.
Snowden conceded that some spying is necessary for national security.
“Not all spying is bad,” he wrote. “The biggest problem we face right now is the new technique of indiscriminate mass surveillance, where governments are seizing billions and billions and billions of innocents’ communication every single day. This is done not because it’s necessary — after all, these programs are unprecedented in US history, and were begun in response to a threat that kills fewer Americans every year than bathtub falls and police officers — but because new technologies make it easy and cheap.
“I think a person should be able to dial a number, make a purchase, send an SMS, write an email, or visit a website without having to think about what it’s going to look like on their permanent record,” he continued. “It’s not good for our country, it’s not good for the world, and I wasn’t going to stand by and watch it happen, no matter how much it cost me.”
He added: “When we’re sophisticated enough to be able to break into any device in the world we want to … there’s no excuse to wasting our time collecting the call records of grandmothers in Missouri.”
The live chat came as Attorney General Eric Holder told MSNBC the United States “would engage in conversation” if the former government contractor accepted responsibility for leaking government secrets.
But Holder said granting clemency to Snowden “would be going too far.”
Last week, President Barack Obama announced an overhaul of the NSA spy program.
But the president, who has said he believes Snowden should stand trial, declined to discuss clemency in a recent interview.
“I do not have a yes/no answer on clemency for Edward Snowden,” Obama told the New Yorker magazine. “This is an active case, where charges have been brought.”
Earlier this week, U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., expressed concern that Snowden might have had help from Russia in pulling off his leak.
“I believe there’s a reason he ended up in the hands, the loving arms, of [a Russian Federal Security Service] agent in Moscow,” Rogers said on “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “I don’t think that’s a coincidence, No. 1. … I don’t think it was a gee-whiz luck event that he ended up in Moscow under the handling of the FSB.”
Snowden quickly denied the spy allegations.
“This ‘Russian spy’ push is absurd,” Snowden told the New Yorker.
Still, Snowden remains hopeful the United States can fix the damage caused by the NSA spying program he exposed.
“What makes our country strong is our system of values, not a snapshot of the structure of our agencies or the framework of our laws,” he wrote. “We can correct the laws, restrain the overreach of agencies, and hold the senior officials responsible for abusive programs to account.”