National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden says he has no plans to return to the United States because he sees “no chance to have a fair trial.”
The former NSA contractor, who is now living in Russia on a temporary one-year visa, is wanted by the U.S. government under charges of espionage and theft of government property.
“Returning to the US, I think, is the best resolution for the government, the public and myself, but it’s unfortunately not possible in the face of current whistleblower protection laws, which through a failure in law did not cover national security contractors like myself,” Snowden said in an online Q&A session Thursday afternoon with the website Free Snowden.
Snowden, who is responsible for one of the largest leaks of classified government information in U.S. history, has always maintained he acted in the interest of the American public. But, he said, the law under which he was charged, the 1917 Espionage Act, doesn’t allow him to use a public interest defence in the courts.
“This is especially frustrating, because it means there’s no chance to have a fair trial, and no way I can come home and make my case to a jury,” he said.
He added he could eventually return if reforms were made to the Whistleblower Protection Act, so that it also covers contractors.
Snowden also said reports of death threats being made by unnamed U.S. intelligence officials were “concerning” and said people should be bothered by officials disregarding Fifth Amendment rights to be free from abuses by authority.
“The fact that it’s also a direct threat to my life is something I am aware of, but I’m not going to be intimidated,” he said during the Q&A. “Doing the right thing means having no regrets.”
During a speech announcing changes to U.S. surveillance programs earlier this month, President Barack Obama mentioned Snowden and said his "sensational" revelations of classified spying programs could impact U.S. operations for years to come.
Some privacy advocates have pressed Obama to grant Snowden amnesty or a plea deal if he returns to the U.S., but the White House has dismissed those ideas. If found guilty under the Espionage Act, penalties could include imprisonment or death.
This June 9, 2013, file photo provided by The Guardian in London shows Edward Snowden, who worked as a contract employee for the National Security Agency, in Hong Kong. (AP Photo/The Guardian, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, File)
In this image made from video released by WikiLeaks on Oct. 11, 2013, former National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden speaks during a presentation ceremony for the Sam Adams Award in Moscow. (AP Photo)
A frame grab made from AFPTV footage, reportedly taken on Oct. 9, 2013, shows U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden speaking during his dinner with a group of four retired U.S. intelligence workers and activists at a luxurious room in an unidentified location. (AFPTV/AFP/Getty Images)
In this image made from video released by WikiLeaks on Oct. 11, 2013, former National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden smiles during a presentation ceremony for the Sam Adams Award in Moscow. (AP Photo)
In this image made from video released by WikiLeaks on Oct. 11, 2013, Edward Snowden (center) receives the Sam Adams Award in Moscow. (AP Photo)
This photo, taken June 9, 2013, in Hong Kong, provided by The Guardian in London shows Edward Snowden, who worked as a contract employee for the National Security Agency. (AP Photo/The Guardian)
This handout file photo taken on July 12, 2013, and made available by Human Rights Watch shows NSA leaker Edward Snowden during his meeting with Russian activists and officials at Sheremetyevo airport, Moscow. (AP Photo/Tatyana Lokshina, Human Rights Watch HO, file)