The Swiss government has formally asked the U.S. for "clarification" on a claim from alleged NSA leaker Edward Snowden that CIA agents in Geneva pushed a banker to drink and drive as part of a dangerous recruitment ploy.
Snowden, the man who claims to have given top secret documents on the National Security Agency's vast surveillance programs to two major newspapers, briefly discusses the scheme in an interview with the U.K. newspaper The Guardian, saying it was a "formative" moment that led him to question the "rightness" of U.S. intelligence.
In an attempt to learn secret financial information, Snowden alleged that undercover CIA agents would get the banker drunk and "encourage" him to drive home in his car. When the banker was eventually arrested for drunk driving, the CIA operatives offered to help him out of the jam, paving the way for recruitment as a source.
"Much of what I saw in Geneva really disillusioned me about how my government functions and what its impact is in the world," Snowden told The Guardian. "I realized that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good."
A spokesperson for Switzerland's Federal Department of Foreign Affairs told ABC News the department had "taken note" of Snowden's claims and has sent a "diplomatic note" to the U.S. Embassy in Bern asking "for clarification of the matter."
"In accordance with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Switzerland expects the members of the diplomatic missions in Bern and the members of the permanent mission in Geneva to comply with the laws and rules of the country of residence," a statement from the foreign ministry read.
At the time of the alleged incident, Snowden said he was working undercover for the CIA in Geneva maintaining computer network security. The CIA has declined to comment on Snowden's case, but the Swiss foreign ministry confirmed that he publicly held the position of "an attaché" with the permanent U.S. mission to the United Nations in Geneva from March 2007 to February 2009. A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this report.
Snowden said he left the CIA in 2009 to work in the private sector for Dell and then with the technology consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. He had only been working for Booz as a contractor at an NSA facility in Hawaii for a few months when he skipped town for Hong Kong, allegedly taking secret NSA documents that he said revealed the U.S. government's "horrifying" surveillance capability.
Snowden has not been seen since he checked out of a Hong Kong hotel room earlier this week, but today an English-language Hong Kong newspaper, the South China Morning Post, published a preview of a new interview the paper said they conducted with Snowden. In the preview, Snowden addresses the raging debate over whether he is a hero or a traitor for his actions. He said the answer is neither, but rather, "I'm an American."
Snowden told the Hong Kong newspaper he has no plans to leave.
"People who think I made a mistake in picking Hong Kong as a location misunderstand my intentions," he said. "I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality… My intention is to ask the courts and people of Hong Kong to decide my fate."