Fugitive whistle-blower Edward Snowden has denied intimations from U.S. politicians that he colluded with Russian intelligence operatives to steal classified information from the National Security Agency.
In a rare interview said to have been conducted via encrypted email from his refuge in Moscow, Snowden told the New Yorker magazine that “this ‘Russian spy’ push is absurd.”
Snowden was accused by Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, of being a “thief, who we believe had some help.”
“I believe there’s a reason he ended up in the hands — the loving arms — of an FSB agent in Moscow,” Rogers said during a Sunday interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I don’t think that’s a coincidence.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was asked by “Meet the Press” host David Gregory if she too thought Snowden had been assisted in his dramatic absconding with a trove of secret files from the NSA.
“He may well have,” said Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. But she added that U.S. authorities “don’t know at this stage.”
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told ABC’s “This Week” that he didn’t believe Snowden “was capable of doing everything himself.”
“I believe he was cultivated,” McCaul said, adding to the insinuations that Snowden was acting at Moscow’s direction when he fled his NSA post in Hawaii in May with what U.S. authorities say were 1.7 million classified, computer-based documents.
In the New Yorker interview, Snowden points out that he first flew to Hong Kong after deciding to leave the NSA and expose what he considered intrusive and excessive snooping by the intelligence agency into the personal communications of millions of Americans and citizens abroad.
When he arrived in Moscow in June, his U.S. passport had been canceled and he was stuck in a transit no-man’s land at Sheremetyevo International Airport for 40 days while Russian authorities mulled his request for asylum, Snowden told the magazine.
“Spies get treated better than that,” he said of his less-than-enthusiastic welcome last summer.
Snowden also pointed out that he would have ended up taking refuge in Cuba if the U.S. government hadn’t rescinded his passport, preventing him from traveling onward to Havana as had been his plan when he left Hong Kong.
“I was only transiting through Russia,” he told the magazine. “But the State Department decided they wanted me in Moscow and canceled my passport.”
Snowden was granted temporary asylum in Russia in August, and remains unable to travel internationally for fear of arrest and extradition to the United States, where he is wanted on felony charges of stealing government property and disclosing classified information.
Snowden’s inability to travel freely would seem to be an obstacle to his chances of taking up the reported opportunity of becoming rector at Glasgow University in Scotland. European media reported Wednesday that the U.S. fugitive has been nominated for the job representing students and will be a candidate against cyclist Graeme Obree, writer Alan Bissett and clergyman Kelvin Holdworth when students vote on Feb. 17-18.
A group of students at the university nominated Snowden and was told by the fugitive’s Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, that he had accepted the invitation to run, the Voice of Russia broadcast agency reported.
Students nominated Snowden, they said, as an “opportunity to show our gratitude to a brave whistle-blower, and thus to all other whistle-blowers.”
Kucherena was also asked about the U.S. politicians’ suggestions that his client spied at the Kremlin’s direction. The lawyer dismissed the allegations as statements “intended to discredit Russia.”