U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says fugitive intelligence leaker Edward Snowden should "man up" and return to the United States to face espionage charges.
The top U.S. diplomat disparaged the former national security contractor Wednesday, describing the 30-year-old Snowden as "a man who has betrayed his country. The fact is he has damaged his country very significantly."
Snowden is living in asylum in Russia a year after leaking a vast cache of National Security Agency documents to journalists that described clandestine U.S. spy operations around the world. In a new television interview, Snowden told NBC-TV news anchor Brian Williams that he never intended to end up in Russia, but was forced to stay there because the U.S. revoked his passport after he first fled to Hong Kong and then to Moscow.
Kerry called that "a pretty dumb answer" and said that if Snowden wants to return to the United States, "we'll have him on a flight today." Kerry said Snowden should "stand up in the United States and make his case to the American people."
In the interview, Snowden says he was "trained as a spy" and worked undercover overseas for the U.S. intelligence community. He rebutted critics who described him as nothing more than a low-level analyst, saying he pretended "to work in a job that I'm not and even being assigned a name that was not mine." Excerpts of the interview were released Tuesday.
"I am a technical expert. I don't work with people. I don't recruit agents," Snowden said. "What I do is I put systems to work for the United States. And I've done that at all levels from -- from the bottom on the ground all the way to the top. Now, the government might deny these things, they might frame it in certain ways and say, ‘Oh, well, you know, he's -- he's a low-level analyst.' But 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, which is that I've worked for the Central Intelligence Agency undercover overseas.
"I've worked for the National Security Agency undercover overseas and I've worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency as a lecturer 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 was working as a contractor for the National Security Agency when he flew to Hong Kong last year with computerized documents detailing the NSA's massive collection of electronic communications of American citizens.
He passed the documents to journalist Glenn Greenwald, who broke the story for the British newspaper The Guardian. Snowden eventually fled to Moscow, where he has been granted asylum. He faces criminal charges in the U.S. for revealing classified information.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation last week aimed at ending the NSA's bulk collection of American's phone and Internet records.
The full interview -- Snowden's first with a U.S. news outlet since leaking the documents -- will be aired Wednesday.