(NBC) – Edward Snowden, in an exclusive interview with “Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams, blamed the State Department for stranding him in Russia, saying he “never intended” to wind up there.
“I personally am surprised that I ended up here,” Snowden said in the interview, an excerpt of which aired on TODAY on Wednesday morning.
“The reality is I never intended to end up in Russia,” he said. “I had a flight booked to Cuba onwards to Latin America and I was stopped because the United States government decided to revoke my passport and trap me in Moscow Airport.
“So when people ask why are you in Russia, I say, ‘Please ask the State Department.”
Snowden’s comments about his new home came in an extended, wide-ranging interview with Williams, his first with a U.S. television network, airs Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.
In the sit-down, he also fights back against critics who dismissed him as a low-level hacker — saying he was “trained as a spy” and offered technical expertise to high levels of government.
“I was trained as a spy in sort of the traditional sense of the word, in that I lived and worked undercover overseas — pretending to work in a job that I’m not — and even being assigned a name that was not mine,” Snowden said.
He described himself as a technical expert who has worked for the United States at high levels, including as a lecturer in a counterintelligence academy for the Defense Intelligence Agency and undercover for the CIA and National Security Agency.
“But I am a technical specialist. I am a technical expert,” he said. “I don’t work with people. I don’t recruit agents. What I do is I put systems to work for the United States. And I’ve done that at all levels from — from the bottom on the ground all the way to the top.”
Last year, when Snowden left the country ahead of reports based on his leaks of NSA spying programs, administration officials played down his work history, using descriptions such as “systems administrator” to describe his role at the agency.
In June, President Barack Obama himself told reporters: “No, I’m not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker.”
Snowden told Williams that those terms were “misleading.”
In the Defense Intelligence Agency job, Snowden said, he “developed sources and methods for keeping our information and people secure in the most hostile and dangerous environments around the world.”
“So when they say I’m a low-level systems administrator, that I don’t know what I’m talking about, I’d say it’s somewhat misleading,” he said.