U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry lashed out at fugitive Edward Snowden Wednesday, urging him to “man-up” and do his patriotic duty by returning home to face trial for leaking intelligence secrets.
Kerry’s comments came only hours after Snowden alleged he was not just a low-level contractor working for the CIA, as the White House has repeatedly insisted.
“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,” he told NBC.
In his first interview with U.S. media, Snowden said he had worked covertly as “a technical expert” for the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, and as a trainer for the Defense Intelligence Agency.
“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,” the 30-year-old said.
“So when they say I’m a low-level systems administrator, that I don’t know what I’m talking about, I’d say it’s somewhat misleading.”
But National Security Advisor Susan Rice swiftly denied his revelations, replying “no” when asked by CNN if he had been a highly-trained undercover spy.
“Edward Snowden was a contractor working for the NSA and other elements of the intelligence community,” she reiterated, stressing he should return home.
But Snowden also blamed the United States for forcing him into exile in Russia after his revelations last June of a vast US dragnet by the NSA to sweep up telephone numbers and data about calls.
-‘Trapped’ by U.S. in Moscow-
“The reality is, I never intended to end up in Russia,” he said in a second excerpt of the interview.
“I had a flight booked to Cuba onwards to Latin America and I was stopped because the United States government decided to revoke my passport and trap me in Moscow Airport,” Snowden told NBC.
“So when people ask, ‘Why are you in Russia?’ I say, please, ask the State Department.”
But Kerry hit back, saying Snowden should do the patriotic thing and return to the United States to face charges for leaking a trove of classified documents.
Two of the charges were brought under the 1917 Espionage Act and Snowden is wanted for theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information, and willful communication of classified intelligence information.
“This is a man who has betrayed his country,” Kerry told CBS News. “He should man up and come back to the US.”
“The fact is, he has damaged his country very significantly. I find it sad and disgraceful.”
Snowden was granted asylum by Russia in August 2013 after being holed up in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport since June 23.
Kerry however denied that the State Department had trapped Snowden in Moscow, saying “for a supposedly smart guy, that’s a pretty dumb answer, frankly.”
“If Mr Snowden wants to come back to the United States today, we’ll have him on a flight today,” Kerry told NBC.
“A patriot would not run away and look for refuge in Russia or Cuba or some other country,” Kerry said. “A patriot would stand up in the United States and make his case to the American people.”
Snowden, who left high school at 15 without graduating, made his revelations three months into a new job with the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton as a systems administrator based at the NSA’s threat operations center in Hawaii.
He had flown to Hong Kong in May 2013 and holed up in a hotel room for hours of interviews with The Guardian about his revelations, before flying to the Russian capital.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]