WASHINGTON — Edward J. Snowden says he was not merely a “low-level analyst” writing computer code for US spies, as President Obama and other administration officials have portrayed him. Instead, he says, he was a trained spy who worked under assumed names overseas for the CIA and the National Security Agency.
Snowden’s claims were made in a television interview broadcast Wednesday evening by NBC News. They added a new twist to the yearlong public relations battle between the administration and Snowden, who is living under asylum in Moscow to escape prosecution for leaking thousands of classified files detailing extensive US surveillance programs at home and abroad.
“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 told Brian Williams of NBC News, in an excerpt released in advance of the full interview.
The NSA, which has described Snowden as an information technology contractor, has not commented on the new claims.
Snowden also addressed how he wound up in Russia after initially fleeing to Hong Kong. “The reality is I never intended to end up in Russia,” he said in a second excerpt broadcast on NBC’s “Today Show.”
Snowden said he had booked a flight to Cuba and on to Latin America, but was “trapped” at a Moscow airport because the United States revoked his passport. “So when people ask why are you in Russia, I say, ‘Please ask the State Department,’ ” he said.
That comment drew a sharp reaction from Secretary of State John Kerry, in an interview on the same program.
“For a supposedly smart guy, that’s a pretty dumb answer, frankly,” Kerry said.
“He can come home,’’ Kerry added, “but he’s a fugitive from justice, which is why he’s not being permitted to fly around the world. It’s that simple.”