The former undercover intelligence analyst who claims responsibility for one of the most high-profile breaches of U.S. classified documents was unapologetic on Monday of his choice to leak, at one point stating bluntly, "this country is worth dying for."
Edward Snowden, who is reportedly living in a upscale hotel in Hong Kong as he tries to find an international refuge, says he leaked information that unveiled secretive government programs designed to collect telephone and internet information on a massive scale, including for those who may not have committed crimes.
Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian newspaper first broke this story and hosted a live blog with Snowden Monday morning in the leaker's first public interview since outing himself.
Topics ranged from his choice of foreign refuge to his motivation to leak the documents he uncovered while working as an analyst for the CIA, and later as a private contractor. He cited the efforts of previous leakers, such as Bradley Manning, adding the subsequent response from the Obama administration creates better hackers.
"[Hackers like Manning] are all examples of how overly-harsh responses to public-interest whistle-blowing only escalate the scale, scope, and skill involved in future disclosures," he wrote on Monday. "Citizens with a conscience are not going to ignore wrong-doing simply because they'll be destroyed for it: the conscience forbids it."
"Instead, these draconian responses simply build better whistleblowers. If the Obama administration responds with an even harsher hand against me, they can be assured that they'll soon find themselves facing an equally harsh public response," Snowden said.
Guardian defense reporter Spencer Ackerman questioned Snowden on the live blog about his choice to seek refuge in Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, and whether he had supplied sensitive information to the Chinese. Snowden's decision raised eyebrows amid ongoing discussions between the U.S. and China over both countries' efforts to establish a stronger cyber security relationship.
"Ask yourself, if I were a Chinese spy, why wouldn't I have flown directly into Beijing? I could be living in a palace petting a phoenix by now," Snowden wrote.
Ackerman followed up later in the live-blog that Snowden had dodged the question, prompting the alleged leaker to say, "No. I have had no contact with the Chinese government. Just like with the Guardian and the Washington Post, I only work with journalists."
Snowden's criticisms were not limited to the current administration. Former Vice President Dick Cheney told Fox News Sunday this weekend that Snowden was a traitor who had seriously damaged U.S. national security.
"This is a man who gave us the warrantless wiretapping scheme as a kind of atrocity warm-up on the way to deceitfully engineering a conflict that has killed over 4,400 and maimed nearly 32,000 Americans, as well as leaving over 100,000 Iraqis dead," Snowden wrote. "Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American, and the more panicked talk we hear from people like him, [Sen. Dianne] Feinstein [D-Calif.], and [Rep. Peter] King [R-N.Y.], the better off we all are. If they had taught a class on how to be the kind of citizen Dick Cheney worries about, I would have finished high school."
Snowden also endorsed encrypting emails as a way to protect an account from government surveillance.
"Properly implemented strong crypto systems" are reliable, he says, adding the NSA does have the ability to get around it.
When asked by one participant what advice Snowden had for those who were considering similar leaks, he wrote only, "This country is worth dying for."
The full text of the live blog is available at the Guardian website.