The former CIA employee who leaked top-secret information about U.S. surveillance programs has said in a new interview in Hong Kong that he is not attempting to hide from justice there but is using the city as a base to reveal wrongdoing.
Edward Snowden dropped out of sight after checking out of a Hong Kong hotel on Monday. The South China Morning Post newspaper said Wednesday that it was able to locate and interview him.
It said Snowden, who has been both praised and condemned for releasing documents about U.S. telephone and Internet surveillance programs, said he was "neither a traitor nor hero. I'm an American."
Asked about his choice of Hong Kong, Snowden said "I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality."
The South China Morning Post said in it's exclusive story that Snowden provided more 'explosive details on U.S. surveillance targets' and talked about 'his fears for his family.'
The newspaper quoted him as saying that he had several opportunities to flee from Hong Kong, but that he "would rather stay and fight the United States government in the courts, because I have faith in Hong Kong's rule of law."
"My intention is to ask the courts and people of Hong Kong to decide my fate," he said.
Snowden, 29, arrived in Hong Kong from his home in Hawaii on May 20, just after taking leave from his National Security Agency contracting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, which has since fired him. Questions remain about why Snowden chose to go public in Hong Kong, a Chinese autonomous region that maintains a Western-style legal system and freedom of speech.
U.S. law enforcement officials have said they are building a case against Snowden but have yet to bring charges. Hong Kong has an extradition treaty with the United States; there are exceptions in cases of political persecution or where there are concerns over cruel or humiliating treatment.
Congressional leaders and intelligence committee members have been routinely briefed about the spy programs, officials said, and Congress has at least twice renewed laws approving them. But the disclosure of their sheer scope stunned some lawmakers, shocked foreign allies from nations with strict privacy protections and emboldened civil liberties advocates who long have accused the government of being too invasive in the name of national security.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has complained that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper misled a Senate committee in March by denying that the NSA collects data on millions of Americans. On Wednesday, Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., called for Clapper to resign.
"Congress can't make informed decisions on intelligence issues when the head of the intelligence community willfully makes false statements," Amash posted on Facebook.
Some Congress members acknowledged they'd been caught unawares by the scope of the programs, having skipped previous briefings by the intelligence committees.
"I think Congress has really found itself a little bit asleep at the wheel," Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., said.
Many leaving the forum declared themselves disturbed by what they'd heard - and in need of more answers.
"Congress needs to debate this issue and determine what tools we give to our intelligence community to protect us from a terrorist attack," said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, and a backer of the surveillance. "Really it's a debate between public safety, how far we go with public safety and protecting us from terrorist attacks versus how far we go on the other side."
He said his panel and the House Judiciary Committee will examine what has happened and see whether there are recommendations to be made for the future.
The Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee will get to question the head of the NSA, Gen. Keith Alexander, on Wednesday, and the Senate and House intelligence committees will be briefed on the programs again Thursday.
The country's main civil liberties organization wasn't buying the administration's explanations, filing the most significant lawsuit against the massive phone record collection program so far. The American Civil Liberties Union and its New York chapter sued the federal government Tuesday in New York, asking a court to demand that the Obama administration end the program and purge the records it has collected.
The ACLU is claiming standing as a customer of Verizon, which was identified last week as the phone company the government had ordered to turn over daily records of calls made by all its customers.
Polls of U.S. public opinion show a mixed response to the controversy. A poll by The Washington Post and the Pew Research Center conducted over the weekend found Americans generally prioritize the government's need to investigate terrorist threats over the need to protect personal privacy.
But a CBS News poll conducted June 9-10 showed that while most approve of government collection of phone records of Americans suspected of terrorist activity and Internet activities of foreigners, a majority disapproved of federal agencies collecting the phone records of ordinary Americans. Thirty percent agreed with the government's assessment that the revelation of the programs would hurt the U.S.' ability to prevent future terrorist attacks, while 57 percent said it would have no impact.