Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden strongly denied that he gave secret information to the Chinese or Russian governments, a response to reported fears from current and former U.S. officials about an intelligence windfall for America’s rivals.
“I never gave any information to either government, and they never took anything from my laptops,” Snowden said, according to The Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald.
Greenwald reported that Snowden, who is believed to be hiding out in the transit area of a Moscow airport, made the statements to refute a story from The New York Times that said Chinese intelligence officials had likely drained the contents of four laptops with which Snowden was reportedly traveling while in Hong Kong. Similar concerns from U.S. officials have been reported by ABC News, including those of a senior U.S. intelligence official who said it would be “fairly easy” for either the Chinese or Russians to copy the information from the laptops with or without Snowden’s permission or knowledge.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if one of those groups hadn’t done so already,” the official said last month.
David Major, a former spy catcher for the FBI, told ABC News in late June that it was inconceivable that the Russians hadn’t found a way to get a peek at Snowden’s information.
“He’s not going to come in with whatever computer he says he has and whatever information is on his hard drive and they’re not going to find a way to get access to it,” Major said. “It is not the nature of intelligence and certainly not the nature of Russian intelligence.”
Greenwald wrote that there’s never been any evidence that Snowden’s laptops have been compromised and said Snowden’s denial, while “not dispositive,” is the only known evidence on either side of the argument.
Regardless of whether Snowden has provided Russia or China with secret information, the U.S. government has already charged Snowden with espionage for his disclosures to major newspapers, starting with Greenwald and The Guardian, about the NSA’s vast, secret domestic and foreign surveillance programs.
Snowden has applied for political asylum in nearly two dozen countries and it has reportedly been offered by a handful, but it is unclear how Snowden would physically get to his destination without stopping in a country that has an extradition treaty with the U.S. Top American officials have pressured Russia to hand Snowden over, but Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said the former NSA contractor has not committed crimes in his country and technically hasn’t crossed the border anyway.
ABC News’ James Gordon Meek contributed to this report.