Former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden said in an interview that he takes the threat of terrorism very seriously and views himself as a patriot, and insisted he is not under the control of Russia's government and has given Moscow no intelligence documents after nearly a year of asylum there.
"I have no relationship with the Russian government at all," Snowden told NBC News in an interview – the whistleblower’s first with a U.S. television network – aired late Wednesday. "I'm not supported by the Russian government. I'm not taking money from the Russian government. I'm not a spy."
The remarks by Snowden, whose leaks about highly classified U.S. surveillance programs upended the NSA, upset millions of ordinary people as well as world leaders and prompted limited reforms by President Barack Obama, were his most extensive to date on his relations with his host government.
While some U.S. government officials have said Snowden's leaks could benefit those wishing to harm American interests, he insisted that he takes "the threat of terrorism seriously."
"I was on Fort Meade [in Maryland, where the NSA is headquartered] on Sept. 11th. I was right outside the NSA. So, I remember the tension on that day. I remember hearing on the radio the planes hitting. And I remember thinking my grandfather, who worked for the FBI at the time, was in the Pentagon when the plane hit it," Snowden said.
"And I think it's really disingenuous for the government to invoke and sort of scandalize our memories to sort of exploit the national trauma that we all suffered together, and worked so hard to come through, to justify programs that have never been shown to keep us safe."
But Current and former U.S. intelligence officials have said it is unlikely Russian security services have not squeezed Snowden for secrets.
Snowden — who said he wants to return to the United States — said he destroyed classified materials before transiting to a Moscow airport, where he was prevented from onward travel.
"I took nothing to Russia, so I could give them nothing," he told NBC's Brian Williams in the hour-long interview.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials have said he was welcome to return to the United States if he wanted to face justice for leaking details of massive U.S. intelligence-gathering programs.
"If I could go anywhere in the world, that place would be home," Snowden told Williams in an interview that is one of several he has given since leaving the U.S.
Asked how eager he was to make a deal to return to the United States, Snowden replied: “My priority is not about myself. It’s about making sure that these programs are reformed — and that the family that I left behind, the country that I left behind — can be helped by my actions.”
But when asked why he doesn’t go home and "face the music," as suggested by some in the U.S. government, he said that "the music is not an open and fair court."
Snowden who fled to Hong Kong before ending up in Moscow, is believed to have taken 1.7 million computerized documents. The leaked documents revealed massive programs run by the NSA that gathered information on emails, phone calls and Internet use by millions of Americans and others worldwide.
He was charged last year in the United States with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified intelligence to an unauthorized person.
Earlier on Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry invited Snowden to "man up and come back to the United States" on the CBS "This Morning" program on Wednesday.
Snowden contended he did not betray his country when Williams said "A lot of people would say, 'You've badly damaged your country.” Snowden responded “I'd say, 'Can you show that?” He, and others contend, none of the information he had leaked has damaged the United States. Indeed, he said that he “demanded” that journalists he gave documents to consult with the government before publication.
He said he took information and turned it over so people wouldn’t get killed. "I didn’t want to take information that... would cause harm to individuals, that would cause people to die," he said.
Snowden repeated what he has said in the past, that he went through proper channels to raise concerns with the NSA, only to be told to stop asking questions.
Saying he saw himself as a patriot, Snowden said to Williams: "The reality is the situation determined that this needed to be told to the public. The Constitution of the United States had been violated on a massive scale.
"I think it’s important to remember that people don’t set their lives on fire, they don’t say goodbye to their families ... they don’t walk away from their extraordinarily comfortable lives ... and burn down everything they love for no reason.”
U.S. officials also fired back at Snowden’s comments in an excerpt from the NBC interview that aired on Tuesday in which he said he was trained as a spy and that he worked undercover and overseas for the CIA and the NSA.
Asked by CNN if that were true, White House national security adviser Susan Rice replied: "No."
In the material aired Wednesday, Snowden said it misleading for the government to describe him as a low-level systems operator. 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.
“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.”
Al Jazeera and wire services