Edward Snowden told the BBC in a new interview Monday that he”gave all of my information to American journalists and free society generally.”
It’s another chapter in an ongoing series of seemingly contradictory statements on the matter that highlights a central mystery of Snowden’s story: What exactly happened to all of the NSA documents he stole?
Snowden has said he gave up all information to American journalists previously. And he has also made the opposite assertion.
On June 12, 2013, two days after identifying himself to the world and fleeing the US, the former NSA contractor originally told the South China Morning Post (SCMP) that he hadn’t given everything to American journalists Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald — because he had to review the data he was leaking.
Snowden provided the Hong Kong paper with documents revealing “operational details of specific attacks on computers” in Hong Kong and mainland China, “including internet protocol (IP) addresses, dates of attacks, and whether a computer was still being monitored remotely.”
He told Lana Lam of SCMP he had held onto that information “because I don’t want to simply dump huge amounts of documents without regard to their content. I have to screen everything before releasing it to journalists.”
Snowden added that he possessed more NSA intelligence beyond what he provided to the American journalists and the SCMP.
“If I have time to go through this information, I would like to make it available to journalists in each country to make their own assessment, independent of my bias, as to whether or not the knowledge of US network operations against their people should be published,” he said.
Snowden, 32, allegedly stole up to 1.77 million NSA documents while working at two consecutive jobs for US government contractors in Hawaii between March 2012 and May 2013.
The haul allegedly included 200,000 “tier 1 and 2” documents that mostly detailed the NSA’s global surveillance apparatus and were reportedly given to American journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras in June 2013.
The US intelligence community believes that Snowden also took up to 1.5 million “tier 3” documents. Those include 900,000 Department of Defence files and documents detailing NSA offensive cyber operations, the fate of which are unclear.
Advised by WikiLeaks, Snowden reportedly reached out to Russian diplomats in Hong Kong before flying to Moscow on June 23, 2013, and subsequently obtaining asylum in Russia.
‘Destroying the material that I was holding’
The contradiction of whether he provided all the NSA information to American journalists is not new to Snowden’s narrative.
In October 2013, James Risen of The New York Times reported Snowden told him that “he gave all of the classified documents he had obtained to journalists he met in Hong Kong, before flying to Moscow, and did not keep any copies for himself.”
ACLU lawyer and Snowden legal adviser Ben Wizner subsequently told Business Insider that the report was inaccurate. (No correction was added to The Times story.)
Snowden subsequently told NBC’s Brian Williams in Moscow that he possessed documents while on the run in Hong Kong but “destroyed” the cache before he reached out to Russian diplomats.
“The best way to make sure that for example the Russians can’t break my fingers and — and compromise information or — or hit me with a bag of money until I give them something was not to have it at all,” he said in May 2014.
“And the way to do that was by destroying the material that I was holding before I transited through Russia,” he added.
When comparing what he told the SCMP and NBC to the NYT and the BBC, it’s clear that the former CIA technician couldn’t destroy or review material that he did not possess after meeting with journalists.
The inconsistencies highlight a central mystery of Snowden’s story: If he stole up to 1.77 million documents and only gave US journalists about 200,000 of them, as alleged, then what happened to the rest? Did he destroy them, as he told NBC? If so, why reiterate to the BBC that everything was given to the American journalists?
‘Volunteered to go to prison’
Snowden is charged with three felonies: Theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defence information, and willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorised person.
While discussing how he had not yet received a formal plea offer from the US, Snowden told the BBC that his he has “volunteered to go to prison with the government many times.”
That would also seem to be a complete about-face in Snowden’s stance. Ben Wizner, the former NSA contractor’s legal advisor, said in July that “any felony plea by Snowden that results in prison time would be unacceptable to his client,” according to Yahoo’s Michael Isikoff.
“Our position is he should not be reporting to prison as a felon and losing his civil rights as a result of his act of conscience,” Wizner, who has taken part in plea negotiations, told Yahoo.
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