WASHINGTON -- Edward Snowden, the former U.S. government contractor who leaked secret details of official surveillance programs, pledged Monday to release more information about U.S. intelligence-gathering methods that he described as "nakedly, aggressively criminal."
"All I can say right now is the U.S. government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me," Snowden wrote in an online chat hosted by Britain's Guardian newspaper. "Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped."
Writing from an undisclosed location believed to be in Hong Kong, the former CIA and National Security Agency systems administrator vigorously defended his disclosures about the breadth of U.S. surveillance, including programs that sweep up data about Americans' telephone calls, emails and Internet use.
U.S. officials have said that under laws governing the surveillance programs, including the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, U.S. citizens are not the targets of the surveillance and their information is "minimized," or set aside, unless it becomes relevant to a national security investigation.
But Snowden alleged that intelligence agencies keep the information on government computers "for a very long time" and are available for analysts to view as long as they produce a "rubber stamp" warrant.
"The reality is that due to the FISA Amendments Act and its section 702 authorities, Americans' communications are collected and viewed on a daily basis on the certification of an analyst rather than a warrant," Snowden said. "They excuse this as 'incidental' collection, but at the end of the day, someone at NSA still has the content of your communications."
Snowden has been in hiding in Hong Kong since last month, when he left his $122,000-a-year job with federal contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, which had assigned him to a team working for the NSA in Hawaii. He checked out of a hotel in Kowloon last Monday, hours after identifying himself as the source of the leaked material published in the Guardian and the Washington Post.
Snowden said he traveled to Hong Kong last month "with no advance booking" because NSA employees' movements are monitored and he feared being detained en route. He said he considered traveling to Iceland instead but worried that the Obama administration would have put pressure on the government in Reykjavik to surrender him.
Hong Kong, which China has administered as a self-rule territory since 1997, provided "the cultural and legal framework to allow me to work without being immediately detained," Snowden said.
He rejected speculation that he intended to defect to China and spill U.S. government secrets in exchange for asylum.
"Ask yourself: if I were a Chinese spy, why wouldn't I have flown directly into Beijing?" Snowden said. "I could be living in a palace petting a phoenix by now."