Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, still hanging out in a Russian airport and possibly departing for Venezuela soon, would really like to finally put this idea that he's a spy for China and/or Russia to bed. He swears it's not true, and that it's all The New York Times's fault.
In a new interview with his old pal Glenn Greenwald, Snowden makes the big definitive denial that he's working in service of America's cold war enemies. "I never gave any information to either government, and they never took anything from my laptops," he told Greenwald. See, there was piles and piles of speculation that Snowden was cooperating with the Chinese during his brief stay in Hong Kong. But that's not the case, according to the leaker, and Greenwald argues that all the spy speculation stems entirely from a single New York Times article.
On June 23, the Times reported that two spies believed China had "drained" Snowden's laptops before allowing him to depart for Russia. "Two Western intelligence experts, who worked for major government spy agencies, said they believed that the Chinese government had managed to drain the contents of the four laptops that Mr. Snowden said he brought to Hong Kong, and that he said were with him during his stay at a Hong Kong hotel," Jane Perlez and Keith Bradsher reported.
This was all phooey, according to Greenwald. "The NYT decided to publish this incendiary claim in a news article based purely on rank speculation from two anonymous sources," Greenwald writes today. He does acknowledge that Snowden shouldn't be taken at his word, necessarily, but that his denial is a lot stronger evidence to the contrary than the belief of two spies who are likely working against him. "Obviously, Snowden's denial is not dispositive and shouldn't be treated as such. But it is the only actual evidence on this question thus far," Greenwald writes.
But, truth be told, there were plenty of accusations that Snowden was cozying up with Russia and China long before the Times story. Dick Cheney guessed on Fox News that Snowden probably was working with Beijing. "The Chinese would welcome the opportunity and probably [be] willing to provide immunity for him or sanctuary for him, if you will, in exchange for what he presumably knows or doesn't know," Cheney said on Fox News Sunday. And Snowden denied the accusations in that Internet-wide Q&A with this famous line: "[I]f I were a Chinese spy, why wouldn't I have flown directly into Beijing? I could be living in a palace petting a phoenix by now." All of that came well before the Times said his laptops were drained, but Greenwald's point is this: the Times's story was the first report taken as concrete, when the evidence was wispy, at best.
What's more interesting is that Greenwald and Snowden seem to be rekindling their relationship after Snowden took Wikipedia's advice and got stuck in Russia. They're speaking much more frequently now after it seemed they had a cooling-off period while Snowden grew his friendship with Julian Assange. Greenwald says the two spoke on "Saturday and then again Tuesday afternoon." On Saturday, Greenwald tweeted that Snowden wrote the suspect WikiLeaks statement himself, despite the evidence and theorizing to the contrary. So these two are still working together, and Julian Assange may be in the backseat again.