Edward Snowden, former CIA contractor who honed his hacking skills in India before leaking US’ secret surveillance programmes, has said he was “trained as a spy” and dismissed America’s assertion that he was a low-level hacker.
“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,” Snowden said in a interview to NBC News, his first with a US television network.
Snowden, 30, in an excerpt of the interview aired yesterday, fought back critics who dismissed him as a low-level hacker, saying he was “trained as a spy” and offered technical expertise to high levels of government.
Snowden described himself as a technical expert who has worked for the US at high levels, including as a lecturer in a counter-intelligence academy for the Defense Intelligence Agency and undercover work for the CIA and National Security Agency.
“But I am a technical specialist. I am a technical expert,” he said.
“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 the bottom on the ground all the way to the top,” Snowden said in the interview conducted in Moscow last week.
Last year, when Snowden began leaking details of NSA spying programmes and left the country, US officials played down his work history, using descriptions such as “systems administrator” to describe his role at the agency.
In June, President Barack Obama told reporters: “No, I’m not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker.” Snowden said those terms were “misleading”.
In the Defense Intelligence Agency job, Snowden said, he “developed sources and methods for keeping our information and people secure in the most hostile and dangerous environments around the world.”
“So when they say I’m a low-level systems administrator, hat I don’t know what I’m talking about, I’d say it’s somewhat misleading,” he said.
According to media reports, Snowden had traveled to India in 2010. He spent six days in New Delhi, taking courses in “ethical hacking,” where he learned advanced techniques for breaking into computer systems and exploiting flaws in software.