The fugitive leaker warns that the U.S. is ill-equipped to stop foreign cyberattacks—and opens up about how much he likes living under asylum in Russia.
Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden wants his critics to know that living is Russia is "great" and that, despite reports to the contrary, he doesn't need alcohol to enjoy his time there.
"Mike Hayden, former NSA, CIA director ... was talking about how I was—everybody in Russia is miserable," Snowden told journalist James Bamford, according to a transcript of an interview released Thursday. "And I'm going to end up miserable and I'm going to be a drunk and I'm never going to do anything. I don't drink. I've never been drunk in my life. And they talk about Russia like it's the worst place on earth. Russia's great."
Snowden's interview, which contained no new revelations about government spying, took place last June in a Moscow hotel room and will air soon on PBS. The discussion largely focused on U.S. cyber capabilities, but Snowden's favorable comments toward Russia are likely to again irk many of his critics, some of whom have suggested he has been sharing U.S. secrets with the Russian government.
This is not the first time Snowden has appeared to speak approvingly of the increasingly pugilistic country, which spent the better part of the past year chilling its relations with the U.S. after invading part of Ukraine. Last spring Snowden made a surprise appearance at an annual telecast with Russian President Vladimir Putin to ask if the country engaged in mass surveillance of its citizens.
The query gave Putin a chance to refute the suggestion without further challenge, giving the exchange the markings of choreographed propaganda. Snowden later defended the question as an attempt to challenge Putin on surveillance matters.
In the new interview, Snowden also spoke at length about the U.S. being poorly equipped to handle cyberattacks from foreign governments or from sophisticated hackers due to the intelligence community prioritizing offensive capabilities at the expense—and sometimes detriment—of defensive schemes.
"We're creating a system of incentives in our country and for other countries around the world that mimic our behavior or that see it as a tacit authorization for them to perform the same sort of operations," Snowden said. "We're creating a class of Internet security researchers who research vulnerabilities, but then instead of disclosing them to the device manufacturers to get them fixed and to make us more secure, they sell them to secret agencies."
Snowden pointed to the U.S.'s use of the so-called Stuxnet virus in 2010 to cripple an Iranian nuclear facility as an attack that "started this trend" of governments launching aggressive cyber campaigns against one another.
Snowden has been living in Russia since he fled from Hong Kong following his disclosures in June 2013 of intimate details of the NSA's sweeping surveillance programs, including its bulk collection of U.S. phone-call data. He was briefly marooned at a Moscow airport after the U.S. revoked his passport, a standoff that ultimately led to Russia granting him asylum for year, a move widely seen at the time as a further strain on the U.S.'s tense relations with the country.
In August of last year, Russia extended Snowden's asylum by granting him a three-year residency permit. Snowden's longtime girlfriend moved to Moscow to live with him in July.
Several of Snowden's supporters, including former Rep. Ron Paul, have called on the Obama administration to grant Snowden clemency—a suggestion that has routinely been dismissed by senior officials, including Attorney General Eric Holder.
Snowden has said that he cannot return to the U.S. under current espionage law, which he believes would afford him "no chance" of a fair trial, though he has frequently said he misses his home country.