Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden says the U.S. government has the capability to remotely turn on a targeted cellphone and then secretly activate the device’s camera and microphone.
In an exclusive interview with NBC News’ Brian Williams, Snowden elaborated on some of the revelations made in the leaked documents that rocked the nation last year.
“The NSA, the Russian intelligence service, the Chinese intelligence service, any intelligence service in the world that has significant funding and a real technological research team can own that phone… as soon as you turn it on, it can be theirs,” Snowden said. “They can turn it into a microphone, they can take pictures from it, they can take data off of it.”
He did clarify, however, that such surveillance is “typically done on a targeted basis.”
When asked by Williams if the government could turn on a phone remotely if it’s off, Snowden said “yes.” He answered the same way when asked if they can turn on apps or access Google history.
Snowden also defended himself against critics who allege he has ties with Russia or the country’s president, Vladimir Putin.
"I have no relationship with the Russian government, I've never met the Russian president. I'm not supported by the Russian government. I'm not taking money from the Russian government," Snowden said. "I'm not a spy, which is the real question."
He said he “never intended to end up in Russia.” Instead, he claims the U.S. revoked his passport before his flight from Russia to “Cuba onwards to Latin America,” stranding him in Russia.
He made it clear that he would like to return to the United States, saying he misses his family, friends and even his old job.
Snowden, a former systems analyst for the NSA, downloaded intelligence documents and leaked them to select journalists, including Glenn Greenwald. The documents revealed, among other things, that the U.S. government was collecting bulk phone and email data on American citizens. Snowden maintains he took action because he felt the American people had the right to know about the surveillance programs.
Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday called Snowden a fugitive and urged him to "man up and come back to the United States."
"If he cares so much about America and he believes in America, he should trust the American system of justice," Kerry said.
For more on the interview visit NBCNews.com.
This story has been updated.