Snowden said he was unsurprised that the adult Edward later made the remarkable leap from security guard at a federally funded center at the University of Maryland to the intelligence world. “I’m assuming that what they saw was a 23-year-old brilliant man. Someone saw something in him,” said Snowden, 52.
But Snowden said he was shocked when his son was identified as the leaker.
“I was as surprised as the rest of America. I was stunned,” he said. He said he saw no direct signs of the growing disillusionment with the government and its surveillance methods that Edward has spoken about in interviews. “He simply did not talk about his work. He was true to the culture,’’ Snowden said.
Edward has said he took his final government contracting job with Booz Allen Hamilton in Hawaii to gain access to sensitive NSA information. But his father said Edward told him that his previous contracting job had been eliminated because of the federal budget sequestration.
“As a father, it pains me what he did,’’ Snowden said. “I wish my son could have simply sat in Hawaii and taken the big paycheck, lived with his beautiful girlfriend and enjoyed paradise. But as an American citizen, I am absolutely thankful for what he did.’’
Less than two days after Edward’s unmasking, FBI agents showed up at his father’s home outside Allentown, Pa., where he retired from the Coast Guard in 2009. He spoke to them for four hours, telling them “everything I could possibly think of’’ and sharing e-mails he had exchanged with Edward, he said.
Soon after that, the FBI asked him to fly to Moscow.
It is not precisely clear why the negotiations over the trip failed, and FBI officials declined to comment. Nor is it clear why Lon Snowden has not gone to Moscow on his own.
“Sure, I could get on a flight tomorrow to Russia. I’m not sure if I could get access to Edward,’’ said Snowden, who said he had communicated with his son through unspecified “intermediaries” as recently as two days ago.
What is clear is that relations between Lon Snowden and U.S. officials have since deteriorated. He condemned the Obama administration and members of Congress for labeling his son a traitor and said he now prefers that Edward stay in Russia.
“If he comes back to the United States, he is going to be treated horribly. He is going to be thrown into a hole. He is not going to be allowed to speak,” Snowden said.
At one point, he nearly choked up as he discussed a plaque that used to be on his desk at the Coast Guard headquarters in the District. Quoting the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, it said: “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.”
The father said that applied to the son, who played with the plaque as a child. “I believe he is comfortable with who he is,’’ Lon Snowden said. “Yes, I am certain. I know my son. He knows he has done the right thing.”