WASHINGTON Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden said he did not bring any of the documents he took from the agency with him to Russia, the New York Times reported on Thursday.
Snowden told the newspaper he gave all the documents to journalists he met in Hong Kong before flying to Moscow and said he did not keep copies for himself. Taking the files to Russia "wouldn't serve the public interest," Snowden said in an interview with the newspaper.
Snowden, who worked for a contractor as a systems administrator at an NSA facility in Hawaii, was the source of disclosures that included details about programs under which the government collects vast amounts of information such as telephone and Internet records.
He has polarized opinion in the United States, where many have been outraged by the extent of government snooping.
But others have labeled him a traitor for stealing information from the NSA after vowing to respect its secrecy policies and fleeing first to China and then to Russia with classified U.S. data.
Russia has granted Snowden a year's asylum. U.S. authorities want him to return to the United States to face espionage charges.
The former contractor, 30, also told the Times he believed he was able to protect the documents from Chinese spy agencies because he was familiar with Beijing's intelligence capabilities.
He said he feels he has boosted U.S. national security by prompting a public debate about the scope of U.S. data collection.
An NSA spokeswoman did not respond to the New York Times' request for comment on Snowden's assertions.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Peter Cooney)