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In NBC Interview, Snowden Says He Was 'Trained As A Spy'

Seeking to correct what he calls "misleading" statements about his work for U.S. government agencies, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden tells NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams he "was trained as a spy" and worked for several.

Snowden, in a new interview, describes a range of work for U.S. agencies, which he says have relied more on technology to gather intelligence. And while he acknowledged not "working with people," he says he lived under a false identity overseas.

Williams spoke to Snowden in Moscow last week, marking the first time a U.S. TV network has spoken with the former intelligence worker. Portions of the interview were aired last night; the rest will air Wednesday, NBC says.

"It's no secret that the U.S. tends to get more and better intelligence out of computers nowadays than they do out of people," Snowden tells Williams. "I was trained as a spy, in sort of the traditional sense of the word, in that I lived and worked undercover overseas — pretending to work in a job that I'm not — and even being assigned a name that was not mine."

Snowden acknowledged that his work didn't focus on recruiting people to spy for the United States.

"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."

U.S. officials who claim that he is only a low-level analyst are trying to use a job title Snowden had at one job "to distract from the totality of my experience," he said.

Snowden then ran through his version of his resume:

"I've worked for the Central Intelligence Agency, undercover, overseas. I've worked for the National Security Agency, undercover, overseas, and I've worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency, as a lecturer at the joint counterintelligence training academy, where I developed sources and methods for keeping our information and people secure in the most hostile and dangerous environments around the world.

"So when they say I'm a low-level systems administrator, that I don't know what I'm talking about, I'd say it's somewhat misleading."

NBC says that Williams' full interview with Snowden will air tonight at 10 p.m. ET.

The network says that the Defense Intelligence Agency confirmed that as a contractor, Snowden spoke at three of their conferences. It also says, "Two intelligence sources tell NBC that Snowden worked for the CIA at an overseas station in IT and communications."

The CIA would not comment on Snowden's status, referring NBC to calls from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper for the former contractor to return the rest of the secret documents that haven't yet been exposed.

Update at 10:45 a.m. ET: Kerry Responds To Snowden

Snowden should "man up" and return home to the United States, Secretary of State John Kerry says. During an interview on CBS' This Morning show, Kerry said he thinks Snowden shouldn't be afraid to face a trial in the U.S.

"He should man up and come back to the United States if he has a complaint about what's the matter with American surveillance, come back here and stand in our system of justice and make his case."

Kerry said that Snowden is "taking potshots at his country, violating the oath that he took," and that he has "damaged his country very significantly, in many, many ways."

"The bottom line is, this is a man who betrayed his country," Kerry said.

Our original post continues:

Snowden's background has been a matter of interest since he provided secret U.S. documents to journalists that laid out broad surveillance programs run by government agencies. Last month, an article in Vanity Fair described him as a young man who learned a great deal about computers after he dropped out of high school at age 15.

Bryan Burrough, one of the journalists who worked on that project, discussed Snowden's work for the CIA in Geneva, and what Burrough calls a turning point in Snowden's career, when he left that job. Burrough told Terry Gross on Fresh Air:

"He got into a big snit with his supervisors because he felt he knew more about the computers and the NSA software than they did — and I don't have any doubt that that's true. What I thought was telling is we talked to a number of people that said, if you just look at the totality, this is a young man who clearly believed that he was destined to be some type of a player here. There was a condescension in his comments."

Months after leaving Geneva, Snowden embarked on his career as an NSA contract worker whose duties included securing the agency's computers against hackers.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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