In a wide-ranging interview, the elder Snowden offered a vehement defense of the young man some have labeled a traitor. He said that Edward, who is holed up at an airport in Moscow, grew up in a patriotic family in suburban Maryland, filled with federal agents and police officers, and that he “loves this nation.’’
Asked what triggered his son’s decision to leak top-secret intelligence documents, Snowden, a retired Coast Guard officer, said he didn’t know. Although Edward had seemed troubled in April during their final dinner together, he said his son had recently put up a “firewall between himself and his family.”
“We had no idea what was coming,’’ he said.
But he pointed to a possible explanation: what he considers misleading statements by U.S. officials about the surveillance methods that Edward Snowden revealed. “If you could say there was a tipping point, I would say it was what happened in the last six to nine months of this nation,” the elder Snowden said.
He also mentioned a conversation that hinted at his son’s growing political awareness; he said Edward told him that he was “troubled” by the 2010 suicide of a Tunisian street vendor that helped trigger the Arab Spring protests.
“It was the idea that a man who simply wanted to make a living, who sold fruits and vegetables to support himself and his family, felt so suppressed and humiliated by his government that he would set himself on fire,” Lon Snowden said.
The younger Snowden, 30, has remained a figure of intrigue since he revealed his identity last month as the principal source behind articles in the British newspaper the Guardian and The Post about secret surveillance. Under the programs he exposed, the NSA collects the telephone records of millions of Americans from U.S. telecommunications companies and the online communications of foreign targets from major Internet firms.
Snowden, who has been charged in the United States with theft and espionage, is seeking asylum in Russia. U.S. officials have condemned the leaks and said the programs he exposed are legal and supervised by a federal court.
In the elder Snowden’s first newspaper interview, conducted with his attorney, Bruce Fein, he offered insight into his son, whose own girlfriend labeled him a “man of mystery.’’ Snowden, who is divorced from Edward’s mother, said his son was “a gentle child” who was highly intelligent and fascinated by computers and technology but didn’t always do well in school.