Former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden told German TV on Sunday about reports that US government officials wanted to assassinate him for leaking secret documents about the NSA’s collection of telephone records and e-mails.
Snowden said the NSA was active in industrial espionage and would grab any intelligence it could get its hands on, regardless of its national security value. He says the NSA does not limit its espionage to issues of national security and he cited German engineering firm Siemens as a target.
“If there’s information at Siemens that’s beneficial to US national interests – even if it doesn’t have anything to do with national security – then they’ll take that information nevertheless,” Snowden said in ARD’s six-hour interview filmed in a Moscow hotel suite. ARD aired 40 minutes of the six-hour interview.
It wasn’t clear what exactly Snowden accused the NSA of doing with such information – he only said he did not want to reveal the details before journalists did.
Snowden’s claim follows a report by The New York Times earlier this month that the NSA put software in almost 100,000 computers around the world, allowing it to carry out surveillance on those devices and could provide a digital highway for cyberattacks.
The NSA planted most of the software after gaining access to computer networks, but has also used a secret technology that allows it entry even to computers not connected to the internet, the newspaper said, citing US officials, computer experts and documents leaked by Snowden.
The newspaper said the technology had been in use since at least 2008 and relied on a covert channel of radio waves transmitted from tiny circuit boards and USB cards secretly inserted in the computers.
Frequent targets of the programme, code-named Quantum, included units of the Chinese military and industrial targets.
Snowden also told ARD that he was no longer in possession of any NSA documents, because he had passed them all on to a few selected journalists and that he had no further influence on the release of the files.
‘There are threats but I sleep well at night’
In what German public broadcaster ARD said was Snowden’s first television interview, Snowden also said he believed the NSA had monitored other top German government officials along with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Snowden told ARD that he felt there were “significant threats” to his life but he said that he nevertheless sleeps well because he did the right thing by informing the public about the NSA’s activities.
“I’m still alive and don’t lose sleep for what I did because it was the right thing to do,” said Snowden at the start of the interview. “There are significant threats but I sleep very well.”
He was referring to a report on a US website that quoted anonymous US officials saying his life was in danger.
“These people, and they are government officials, have said they would love to put a bullet in my head or poison me when I come out of the supermarket and then watch me die in the shower,” Snowden said.
Snowden, wearing a white shirt and black jacket, also chatted about his childhood and said he had always been fascinated by computers and was one of those kids whose parents would tell him late at night to finally turn it off.
Hubert Seipel, the reporter who talked to Snowden, said he first met him in Moscow at the end of December and conducted the interview on Thursday.
Seipel described Snowden, 30, as “worried, but relaxed at the same time”. He said Snowden was studying Russian, but that he could not confirm any further details about where exactly he met Snowden or whether he was working for a Russian internet company, as some media have previously reported.
Questions about US government spying on civilians and foreign officials became heated last June when Snowden leaked documents outlining the widespread collection of telephone records and e-mail.
Snowden was granted asylum in Russia last summer after fleeing the United States, where he is wanted on espionage charges for leaking information about government surveillance practices.
The revelations shocked Germany, a country especially sensitive after the abuses by the Gestapo during the Nazi reign and the Stasi in Communist East Germany during the cold war.
Reports the NSA monitored Merkel’s mobile phone have added to the anger in Germany, which has been pushing for a ‘no-spy’ agreement with the United States, a country it considers to be among its closest allies.
Snowden faces criminal charges after fleeing to Hong Kong and then Russia, where he was granted at least a year’s asylum.
He was charged with theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national security information and giving classified intelligence data to an unauthorised person.
With additional reporting from Reuters