Edward Snowden defends leaks in online chat

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WASHINGTON -- NSA leaker Edward Snowden defended his disclosure of top-secret U.S. spying programs in an online chat yesterday with The Guardian and attacked U.S. officials for calling him a traitor.

"The U.S. government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me," he said. He added the government "immediately and predictably destroyed any possibility of a fair trial at home," by labeling him a traitor, and indicated he would not return to the U.S. voluntarily.

Congressional leaders say Snowden is a traitor for revealing once-secret surveillance programs two weeks ago in the Guardian and The Washington Post. The National Security Agency programs collect records of millions of Americans' telephone calls and Internet usage as a counterterror tool. The disclosures revealed the scope of the collections, which surprised many Americans and have sparked debate about how much privacy the government can take away in the name of national security.

"It would be foolish to volunteer yourself to" possible arrest and criminal charges "if you can do more good outside of prison than in it," he said.

In one posted reply to a question, Snowden dismissed being called a traitor by former Vice President Dick Cheney, who made the allegations in an interview this week on Fox News Sunday. Cheney was echoing a charge by Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

"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, Feinstein . . . the better off we all are," he said. "This is a man who gave us the warrantless wiretapping scheme as a kind of atrocity warm-up on the way to deceitfully engineering a conflict that has killed over 4,400 and maimed nearly 32,000 Americans, as well as leaving over 100,000 Iraqis dead," he added, referring to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

The Guardian announced that its website was hosting an online chat with Snowden, in hiding in Hong Kong, with reporter Glenn Greenwald receiving and posting his questions.

The Associated Press couldn't independently verify that Snowden was the man who posted 19 replies to questions.

In answer to a question about charges made by Cheney and other U.S. officials that he might be spying for China, and trading information for asylum, Snowden wrote, "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." He added later, "I have had no contact with the Chinese government."

Snowden explained that he had not flown directly to Iceland, where he has said he would like to seek asylum, because of the restrictions on travel for U.S. government employees with top clearances that require permission 30 days in advance, making Hong Kong the more accessible option.

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