Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower who is living under asylum in Moscow, told Yahoo News in an interview aired Monday that he’s “not counting” on getting a pardon from President Barack Obama in the final days of Obama’s term.
Snowden says he spends his time largely unrecognized in Russia, and denied that he is in the pocket of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“People seem to think that I’m going ice-skating with Vladimir Putin in Red Square, you know, every weekend or riding polar bears over the tundra. Yeah, no, I’ve never met the Russian president. I have no intention to.”
Snowden told Yahoo News’ Katie Couric that even though President-elect Donald Trump once tweeted that the fugitive whistleblower “should be executed” for espionage, he is comfortable with his role in history.
But Snowden also said the U.S. government has treated his actions unfairly compared to David Petraeus, the retired four-star Army general who later became CIA director, then admitted guilt to a misdemeanor for sharing classified information with his former lover.
Petraeus remains on a short list to serve as Trump’s secretary of state.
“He never spent a single day in jail, despite the type of classified information he exposed,” Snowden said, condemning what he called “a two-tiered system of justice” in which people who are well-connected or rich “get very light punishments.”
Petraeus “shared information that was far more highly classified than I ever did with journalists. And he shared this information not with the public for their benefit, but with his biographer and lover,” Snowden said, noting that the spilled secrets were “classified above Top Secret” and “conversations with the president, and so on.”
On whether he might expect a presidential pardon, Snowden said: “Well, I’m not counting on it.”
Amnesty International, a London-based rights group, and the American Civil Liberties Union have launched a joint “Pardon Snowden” campaign.
The Obama administration has charged Snowden with three felonies, including two under the 1917 Espionage Act, and has called on him repeatedly to return to the United States and stand trial.
Snowden shook the U.S. intelligence establishment in 2013 when he revealed a series of secrets about the National Security Agency, including that it routinely swept up phone records as part of domestic spying and that it tapped calls of a number of leaders of U.S. allies. He also revealed techniques of an elite government hacker team.
An Oliver Stone biopic about Snowden came out nearly three months ago, and outside the United States he is widely seen as a hero even as many Americans revile him as a traitor.
Snowden said few people recognize him in Russia.
“If I walk out on the street people have no idea who I am. If I walk into a computer store, everyone in the store will immediately recognize me,” Snowden said.
He said he lives with a U.S. girlfriend who has stood by him since before he revealed the classified secrets.
He hasn’t regretted his decision, Snowden added.
“I would not have done it if I didn’t believe it was right,” Snowden said, adding what he considered historical perspective on subversive acts in the nation’s history.
“We’re a country that was born from an act of treason against a government that had run out of control,” Snowden said. “But look, every act of progression in our nation’s history has involved tension with law. Whether it was the abolition of slavery, whether it was the enfranchisement of women whether it was the birth of our nation, laws were broken. And that’s because the laws were wrong.”