Secretary of State John F. Kerry on Wednesday called National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden a fugitive and challenged him to “man up and come back to the United States.” Snowden said in an interview that he would like to go home.
The former NSA contract systems analyst is living in Russia on a temporary grant of asylum after leaking a massive volume of NSA documents to the media. He told anchorman Brian Williams of NBC News that he had taken action in the belief that he was serving his country in exposing the surveillance programs of the NSA.
“I don’t think there’s ever been any question that I’d like to go home,” Snowden said in a segment of the interview broadcast Wednesday night. “Now, whether amnesty or clemency ever becomes a possibility is not for me to say. That’s a debate for the public and the government to decide. But, if I could go anywhere in the world, that place would be home.”
Asked how anxious he was to make a deal to return to the United States, Snowden replied: “My priority is not about myself. It’s about making sure that these programs are reformed, and that the family that I left behind, the country that I left behind, can be helped by my actions.”
He added that if his one-year asylum in Russia, which expires on Aug. 1, “looks like it’s going to run out, then of course I would apply for an extension.”
Snowden, who fled to Hong Kong and then Moscow last year, is believed to have taken 1.7 million computerized documents. He was charged last year in the United States with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified intelligence to an unauthorized person.
Kerry’s comments came before NBC aired that portion of the Snowden interview. On the matter of Snowden returning, Kerry told NBC’s “Today” show: “If Mr. Snowden wants to come back to the United States, we’ll have him on a flight today.” Kerry also said, “A patriot would not run away.”
Snowden told Williams that he worked undercover and overseas for the CIA and the NSA. He said he had a much larger role in U.S. intelligence than the government has acknowledged.
“I was trained as a spy in sort of the traditional sense of the word, in that I lived and worked undercover overseas,” he said.
National security adviser Susan Rice told CNN that Snowden never worked undercover.
As far as the necessity for the leaks, “let him come back and make his case,” Kerry said. “If he cares so much about America and he believes in America, he should trust the American system of justice.”
Snowden said he never intended to be holed up in Russia but was forced to go there because Washington decided to “revoke my passport.” In response, Kerry said: “Well, for a supposedly smart guy, that’s a pretty dumb answer, after all.”
“I think he’s confused,” Kerry said. “I think it’s very sad. But this is a man who has done great damage to his country.”