Former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden says he did not take any secret documents with him when he fled Hong Kong for Russia and insists he had no intention of defecting while holed up in the city.
The 30-year-old American also claimed there was no danger of China getting its hands on any of the material he had because, having taught a course on Chinese cyber counterintelligence during his time as a contractor for the US National Security Agency, he had extensive knowledge of how the country's intelligence services worked.
In an interview with The New York Times, Snowden - who has been granted asylum in Russia - said he gave all the classified papers he had obtained to reporters he met in Hong Kong before flying to Moscow from Chek Lap Kok on June 23.
Before leaving for Moscow, Snowden revealed to the Post that computer systems in both Hong Kong and the mainland had been extensively monitored and compromised by NSA operations. He shared a number of classified NSA documents with the Post.
The ex-NSA contractor also met former Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald in Hong Kong around the same time.
Snowden said he did not take the documents with him "because it wouldn't serve the public interest". Greenwald has said he has "thousands" of secret files.
"What would be the unique value of personally carrying another copy of the materials onward?" he said. "There's a zero per cent chance the Russians or Chinese have received any documents."
The New York Times said its interview with Snowden took place over several days last week and was carried out using encrypted online communications.
US officials and critics of Snowden have expressed concern that the documents in his possession could have fallen into the hands of Russian, Chinese or other potentially hostile foreign intelligence agencies. Snowden, however, insisted the NSA knew he had not co-operated with Russian or Chinese spies.
He said he never considered defecting while in Hong Kong or Russia and said he felt confident that he had kept the documents secure from Chinese spies, and that the NSA knew he had done so. His last target while working as an agency contractor was China, he said, adding that he had had "access to every target, every active operation" mounted by the NSA against the Chinese.
"If that was compromised," he told the Times, "the NSA would have set the table on fire from slamming it so many times in denouncing the damage it had caused. Yet NSA has not offered a single example of damage from the leaks."
Snowden, who faces espionage charges, defended his disclosures as serving the country's interests by sparking a public debate and informing the public about secret surveillance.