Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden pushed back against criticism suggesting he was just “low-level” hacker in an exclusive interview with NBC News, saying he was trained as a “spy” in the “transitional sense of the word.
In the interview, which will air in full on NBC Wednesday, host Brian Williams presses Snowden about his training and expertise.
“Were you trained as a spy?” the anchor asked. “It seems to me spies probably look a lot more like Ed Snowden and a lot less like James Bond these days.”
Snowden agreed that the U.S. now gets “more and better intelligence out of computers nowadays than they do out of people.” He also claimed he 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.”
“But I am a technical specialist. I am a technical expert. I don’t work with people. I don’t recruit agents,” he added. “What I do is I put systems to work for the United States. And I’ve done that at all levels from, from the bottom on the ground all the way to the top. Now, the government might deny these things, they might frame it in certain ways and say, ‘Oh well, you know, he’s — he’s a low level analyst.’”
In fact, President Barack Obama did seem to downplay Snowden’s expertise at one point, telling reporters he’s “not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker.” This was, of course, after Snowden famously leaked documents revealing the scope of the NSA’s surveillance programs last year.
Snowden cited his time working for the NSA, CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency.
“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,” he said.