Whistleblower Edward Snowden has said he didn't take any secret US documents with him when he went to Russia. He made the announcement in a rare interview with the New York Times newspaper.
Russian and Chinese officials can not get access to the documents Snowden, a former intelligence contractor, obtained before he left the US for Hong Kong, he said in the interview published Thursday.
Snowden said he gave all of his classified documents to reporters he met in Hong Kong before flying on to Moscow, where he is currently living in asylum. He told the newspaper that he did not take any of the secret documents with him, "because it wouldn't serve the public interest."
"What would be the unique value of personally carrying another copy of the materials onward?" he asked.
The documents Snowden took while working as an intelligence contractor were the source for a wide range of recent disclosures about the US government's far-reaching, intrusive communications collection programs.
Snowden, who in his job had targeted Chinese operations and taught a course on Chinese cyber-counterintelligence, said his familiarity with China's intelligence abilities ensured he was able to protect the documents.
"There's a zero percent chance the Russians or Chinese have received any documents," he said.
US officials have repeatedly expressed their concern that the information Snowden took would end up in the hands of the Chinese or Russian governments, but there has so far been no evidence indicating that has happened.
Snowden said that, despite the sentiment emanating from Washington and some of its allies, none of the recent NSA disclosures had been harmful to US national security.
"NSA has not offered a single example of the damage from the leaks. They haven't said boo about it except 'we think,' 'maybe,' 'have to assume' from anonymous and former officials," he said. "Not 'China is going dark.' Not 'the Chinese military has shut us out.'"
Driving public debate
Snowden said publishing the documents has instead had the opposite effect – they had helped fuel a much-needed public debate on US surveillance and intelligence practices.
"The secret continuance of these programs represents a far greater danger than their disclosure," he said. "So long as there's broad support amongst a people, it can be argued there's a level of legitimacy even to the most invasive and morally wrong program, as it was an informed and willing decision."
"However, programs that are implemented in secret, out of public oversight, lack that legitimacy, and that's a problem," he added. "It also represents a dangerous normalization of 'governing in the dark,' where decisions with enormous public impact occur without any public input."
The 30-year-old Snowden is currently facing espionage charges in the US. He was granted temporary one-year asylum by Russia on August 1. The New York Times said that its interview with him was conducted over several days and involved encrypted online communication.
dr/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters)