Edward Snowden has highly sensitive documents on how the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA) is structured and operates that could harm the country’s government, but has insisted that they not be made public, a journalist close to Snowden said.
Glenn Greenwald, a columnist with a UK daily who first reported on the intelligence leaks, said that disclosure of the information in the documents “would allow somebody who read them to know exactly how the NSA does what it does, which would in turn allow them to evade that surveillance or replicate it.”
He said the “literally thousands of documents” taken by Snowden constitute “basically the instruction manual for how the NSA is built”.
“In order to take documents with him that proved that what he was saying was true, he had to take ones that included very sensitive, detailed blueprints of how the NSA does what they do,” the journalist said, speaking four hours after his last interaction with Snowden.
Greenwald said he believes the disclosure of the information in the documents would not prove harmful to Americans or their national security, but that Snowden has insisted they not be made public.
“I think it would be harmful to the US government, as they perceive their own interests, if these details were revealed,” he said.
He has previously said the documents have been encrypted to help ensure their safekeeping. Snowden emerged from weeks of hiding in a Moscow airport on Friday, and said he was willing to meet President Vladimir Putin’s condition that he stop leaking US secrets if it means Russia would give him asylum until he can move on to Latin America.
Snowden is stuck in the transit area of Moscow’s main international airport, where he arrived from Hong Kong on June 23. He’s had offers of asylum from Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia, but because his US passport has been revoked, the logistics of reaching whichever country he chooses are complicated.
Still, Greenwald said that Snowden remains “calm and tranquil”, despite his predicament.
“There is not an iota of remorse or regret or anxiety over the situation that he’s in,” said Greenwald, “He’s of course tense and worried about his short-term well-being to the best extent that he can, but he’s very resigned to the fact that things might go terribly wrong and he’s at peace with that.”
Greenwald said he worried that interest in Snowden’s personal saga had detracted from the impact of his revelations, adding that Snowden deliberately turned down nearly all requests for interviews to avoid the media spotlight.
He said the US has shown it’ “willing to take even the most extreme steps if they think doing so is necessary to neutralise a national security threat,” Greenwald said.
Asked about a so-called dead man’s pact, which Greenwald has said would allow several people to access Snowden’s trove of documents were anything to happen to him, Greenwald replied that “media descriptions of it have been overly simplistic. It’s not just a matter of, if he dies, things get released, it’s more nuanced than that.
It’s really just a way to protect himself against extremely rogue behavior on the part of the United States, by which I mean violent actions toward him, designed to end his life, and it’s just a way to ensure that nobody does anything of the sort.”
Following Friday’s meeting between Snowden and human rights activists, US officials criticised Russia for allowing a “propaganda platform” for Snowden.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Russia should instead send Snowden back to the US to face the felony charges that are pending against him. “He is accused of leaking classified information, has been charged with three felony counts and should be returned to the United States.”