Snowden: I was a trained spy, not just a hacker

Snowden: I was a trained spy, not just a hacker

Credit: AFP/Getty Images

A frame grab made from AFPTV footage, reportedly taken on October 9, 2013, shows US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden speaking during his dinner with a group of four retired US ex-intelligence workers and activists at a luxurious room in an unidentified location. Snowden warned of dangers to democracy in the first video released of the fugitive since Russia granted him temporary asylum in August. AFP PHOTO / AFPTV (Photo credit should read AFPTV/AFP/Getty Images)


by Michael Winter, USA TODAY

Posted on May 28, 2014 at 9:31 AM

Updated Wednesday, May 28 at 9:31 AM

Edward Snowden says he's more than just a hacker or systems administrator, as the Obama administration and media have portrayed him.

He worked undercover for the CIA and the National Security Agency.

"I was trained as a spy in sort of the traditional sense of the word, in that I lived and worked undercover overseas — pretending to work in a job that I'm not — and even being assigned a name that was not mine," the master secrets spiller tells NBC News in his first interview with a U.S. TV network.

Portions of the interview, conducted by Brian Williams in Moscow last week, appeared Tuesday night. An extended version will air Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET.

Snowden, who was granted temporary asylum in Russia after revealing details of U.S. spying activities to journalists, portrayed himself as "a technical specialist ... a technical expert."

"I don't work with people. I don't recruit agents. 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," Snowden said.

Responding to the interview, Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that Snowden had betrayed his country and "should man up (and) come back to the United States."

"If he has a complaint about what's wrong with American surveillance, come back here and stand in our system of justice and make his case," Kerry told CBS This Morning. "But instead he's just sitting there taking pot shots at his country, violating his oath that he took when he took on the job he took, and betraying, I think, the fundamental agreement that he entered into when he became an employee."

Kerry said that Snowden had "damaged his country very significantly, in many, many ways" and had "hurt operational security."

"He has told terrorists what they can now do to be able to avoid detection, and I find it sad and disgraceful," the secretary said.

In addition to his overseas spycraft, Snowden told NBC News that he had also lectured at a counterintelligence academy for the Defense Intelligence Agency.

After leaving the government, Snowden continued his intelligence work for the NSA as a private contractor, including stints in Japan and Hawaii. While in the Aloha State he downloaded an estimated 1.7 million files before fleeing first to Hong Kong and then to Moscow.

He has been charged with espionage and had his U.S. passport revoked.

Last week, the House of Representatives voted to end the NSA's bulk collection of so-called metadata from cellphones, a practice Snowden revealed.

Contributing: Doug Stanglin in McLean, VA.