Ever since Edward Snowden revealed himself as the NSA leaker, reporters and critics have been busy trying to poke holes in his story. On Monday, Snowden attempted to clear things up with a live Q&A at The Guardian's website.
He answered questions about factual inconsistencies in his narrative, why he fled to Hong Kong, and what data NSA analysts have access to. A look at his most revealing answers given by Snowden during his hour-plus live-chat.
On his disputed salary
The original Guardian profile about Snowden implied that he made $200,000 while working as an employee of government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. The massive consulting firm tried to distance itself from Snowden by firing him and saying that he was lying about his salary — which it put at $122,000.
Snowden defended himself on Monday, writing: "The statement I made about earnings was that $200,000 was my 'career high' salary. I had to take pay cuts in the course of pursuing specific work. Booz was not the most I've been paid."
On why he chose to abscond to Hong Kong
Plenty of people have questioned Snowden's decision to flee to Hong Kong — a city that, despite its relative autonomy from Beijing, still is under the sovereignty of the Chinese government, which isn't exactly known for respecting its citizens' privacy.
Why not flee to Iceland, a country Snowden mentioned as a possible safe haven?
There was a distinct possibility I would be interdicted en route, so I had to travel with no advance booking to a country with the cultural and legal framework to allow me to work without being immediately detained. Hong Kong provided that. Iceland could be pushed harder, quicker, before the public could have a chance to make their feelings known, and I would not put that past the current U.S. administration. [The Guardian]
Others have also wondered whether Snowden's destination was a sign that he was giving secrets to the Chinese government. Snowden adamantly denied that accusation:
This is a predictable smear that I anticipated before going public, as the U.S. media has a knee-jerk "RED CHINA!" reaction to anything involving HK or the PRC, and is intended to distract from the issue of U.S. government misconduct. Ask yourself: if I were a Chinese spy, why wouldn't I have flown directly into Beijing? I could be living in a palace petting a phoenix by now. [The Guardian]
On whether the NSA has 'direct access' to the servers of major internet companies
Internet companies, including Google, Apple, and Microsoft, vehemently denied Snowden's claims that the NSA had direct access to their servers.
On Monday, Snowden stuck by what he had said, claiming that "their denials went through several revisions as it become more and more clear they were misleading and included identical, specific language across companies."
As for what exactly he meant by "direct access," Snowden replied that if the NSA had access to raw communications databases, "they can enter and get results for anything they want. Phone number, email, user id, cell phone handset id (IMEI), and so on - it's all the same. The restrictions against this are policy based, not technically based, and can change at any time."
On the NSA allegedly hacking Hong Kong computers
In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Snowden claimed that the NSA was conducting secret attacks on the computers of Hong Kong civilians, an action he called "ethically dubious." He was asked to justify his revealing of information about how the United States gathers foreign intelligence:
Congress hasn't declared war on the countries - the majority of them are our allies - but without asking for public permission, NSA is running network operations against them that affect millions of innocent people. And for what? So we can have secret access to a computer in a country we're not even fighting? So we can potentially reveal a potential terrorist with the potential to kill fewer Americans than our own Police? No, the public needs to know the kinds of things a government does in its name, or the "consent of the governed" is meaningless. [The Guardian]
On facing criticism from politicians
"Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American, and the more panicked talk we hear from people like him ... the better off we all are," Snowden wrote. "If they had taught a class on how to be the kind of citizen Dick Cheney worries about, I would have finished high school."
On the danger he feels he faces
Snowden seemed convinced his life was in danger. "All I can say right now is the U.S. Government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me," he wrote. "Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped."
When asked what he would tell other people who were in a position to leak information on the "intelligence apparatus of the USA," Snowden answered: "This country is worth dying for."
Read the entire Q&A session at The Guardian.