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Snowden: If 'Country Is Helped,' Ending Up in Ditch 'Worth It'

In New Yorker interview, NSA whistleblower says 'I acted alone' and calls spy accusations 'absurd'

Jon Queally, staff writer

Whistleblower Edward Snowden. (Photograph by Barton Gellman/Getty)

Edward Snowden says that even if he ends up in "a ditch" some day, if his acts help his country, then it will all have been worth it.

Mike Rogers, a Republican congressman from Michigan who is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, took to the Sunday news show circuit to make unsubstantiated claims that whistleblower Edward Snowden was possibly working for Russian intelligence when he downloaded and subsequently leaked a trove of internal documents from his one-time employer, the National Security Agency.

But in an interview with The New Yorker magazine, Snowden called such claims 'absurd,' telling investigative journalist Jane Mayer, using encrypted email, that he “clearly and unambiguously acted alone, with no assistance from anyone, much less a government.”

"This 'Russian spy' push is absurd," Snowden told Mayer, and made the point that he wasn't welcomed in Russia with open arms, but was stranded in the Sheremetyevo International Airport (stripped of his passport by the U.S. government it's worth nothing) for over a month before his temporary asylum was granted. "Spies get treated better than that," he said.

No evidence, including from the FBI's active investigation into Snowden, has turned up any evidence that he received any outside assistance or was acting as a foreign agent.

“It may sound trite, [but if] I end up disgraced in a ditch somewhere, but it helps the country, it will still be worth it.” —Edward Snowden

As Mayer writes:

In the nine months since Snowden first surfaced, there has been intense speculation about his motives and methods. But “a senior F.B.I. official said on Sunday that it was still the bureau’s conclusion that Mr. Snowden acted alone,” the New York Times reported this weekend, adding that the agency has not publicly revealed any evidence that he was working in conjunction with any foreign intelligence agency or government. The issue is key to shaping the public’s perceptions of Snowden. Congressman Rogers, on “Meet the Press,” went on to allege that “some of the things he did were beyond his technical capabilities. Raises more questions. How he arranged travel before he left. How he was ready to go—he had a go bag, if you will.” Gregory then asked Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, and who was also a guest on the show, whether she agreed that Snowden may have had help from the Russians. She did not dismiss the notion. “He may well have,” she said. “We don’t know at this stage.” On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Rogers made similar allegations, saying, “This wasn’t a random smash and grab, run down the road, end up in China, the bastion of Internet freedom, and then Russia, of course, the bastion of Internet freedom.”

Asked today to elaborate on his reasons for alleging that Snowden “had help,” Congressman Rogers, through a press aide, declined to comment.

An aide to Senator Feinstein, meanwhile, stressed that she did no more than ask questions. “Senator Feinstein said, ‘We don’t know at this stage.’ In light of the comments from Chairman Rogers, it is reasonable for Senator Feinstein to say that we should find out.”

Throughout the online interview with Mayer, Snowden remains adamant about his motivations to expose the NSA surveillance programs that have fueled a major international debate about government spying since the stories based on the documents first starting appearing in The Guardian newspaper in the spring of last year. Despite the growing interest in him personally and his reasons for acting, Snowden remains thoughtful on a range of issues in his exchange with Mayer. A sampling follows.

On the media coverage

“It’s just amazing that these massive media institutions don’t have any sort of editorial position on this. I mean these are pretty serious allegations, you know?”

“The media has a major role to play in American society, and they’re really abdicating their responsibility to hold power to account.”

On leaving Russia

“When we were talking about possibilities for asylum in Latin America, the United States forced down the Bolivian President’s plane.” If he could travel without U.S. interference, “I would of course do so.”

On personal sacrifice versus the greater good

“At least the American public has a seat at the table now. [...] “It may sound trite, [but if] I end up disgraced in a ditch somewhere, but it helps the country, it will still be worth it.”


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