* Snowden hits back against critics, criticizes Obama
* He questions whether he can get fair trial in U.S.
* Shrugs off Cheney criticism, calls it an 'honor'
* Obama reiterates trade-off between security and privacy
By Laura MacInnis and John Whitesides
WASHINGTON, June 17 Edward Snowden, the former
National Security Agency contractor who exposed the U.S.
government's top-secret surveillance programs, fought back
against his critics on Monday and denied allegations that he was
a spy for China.
Snowden told an online forum run by Britain's Guardian
newspaper that he revealed the programs in part out of
disappointment with President Barack Obama, who he said had
expanded "abusive" government programs while in office.
A defiant Snowden, believed to be in hiding in Hong Kong,
dismissed suggestions such as comments on Sunday from former
Vice President Dick Cheney that he was a traitor who could be
sharing secret information with China.
He said being called a traitor by Cheney, instrumental in
the expansion of surveillance programs, was "the highest honor"
you can give an American.
"I have had no contact with the Chinese government," said
Snowden, who has vowed to stay in the Chinese-run former British
colony and fight any effort to extradite him to the United
"This is a predictable smear that I anticipated before going
public ... Ask yourself: if 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."
U.S. officials familiar with the investigations into Snowden
said there was no evidence so far to suggest he had any contacts
with China. In China's first substantive comments on Monday, a
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman rejected the suggestion that
Snowden was a Chinese spy and said Washington should explain its
surveillance programs to the world.
Snowden, the former employee of contractor Booz Allen
Hamilton, who worked in an NSA facility in Hawaii
before providing details to the Guardian and Washington Post,
said the government's "litany of lies" about the programs helped
convince him to act.
He said he was particularly disappointed in what he saw as
Obama's failure to live up to the promises of his 2008 campaign.
As president, Snowden said, Obama has "closed the door on
investigating systemic violations of law, deepened and expanded
several abusive programs, and refused to spend the political
capital to end the kind of human rights violations like we see
in Guantanamo, where men still sit without charge."
Obama and administration officials have defended the
surveillance programs as effective tools in their effort to
protect Americans from terrorism and said they were instrumental
in helping to disrupt dozens of potential attacks.
Obama reiterated on PBS's "Charlie Rose" show on Monday that
there are trade-offs between privacy and national security but
said that the government conducts its surveillance programs with
oversight and restraint.
"What I can say unequivocally is that if you are a U.S.
person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls, and the
NSA cannot target your emails ... and have not," Obama said in
the interview taped on Sunday.
He also said he has "stood up," and will meet with, a
privacy and civil liberties oversight board that includes "some
fierce civil libertarians."
The Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation
into Snowden's actions, and U.S. officials promised last week to
track him down and hold him accountable for the leaks.
'THAT'S NOT JUSTICE'
Snowden said the government had "destroyed any possibility
of a fair trial at home, openly declaring me guilty of treason
and that the disclosure of secret, criminal and even
unconstitutional acts is an unforgivable crime. That's not
justice," he said.
The revelations of widespread monitoring of the phone and
Internet data kept by big companies such as Google Inc
and Facebook Inc ignited a sharp debate about the balance
between privacy rights and national security.
Since Snowden went public in a video released by the
Guardian on June 9, many U.S. lawmakers have condemned his
actions and intelligence officials have said the leaks will
compromise national security.
Some lawmakers have been more restrained. Republican Senator
Rand Paul, a favorite of the anti-government Tea Party movement,
has encouraged Americans to be part of a class-action lawsuit
against the U.S. government for the surveillance programs.
General Keith Alexander, director of the NSA, will testify
at a House of Representatives Intelligence Committee hearing on
Tuesday where details could be made public of some two dozen
attacks that officials say the surveillance programs helped
Snowden answered about 18 questions on the Guardian's
website during the session, which lasted more than 90 minutes
and drew more than 2,000 comments and questions.
He said there was no single event that led him to leak
details about the surveillance, but rather "it was seeing a
continuing litany of lies from senior officials to Congress -
and therefore the American people - and the realization that
Congress ... wholly supported the lies."
Snowden referred to Director of National Intelligence James
Clapper's testimony to Congress in March that such a program did
not exist, saying that seeing him "baldly lying to the public
without repercussion is the evidence of a subverted democracy.
The consent of the governed is not consent if it is not
Snowden said he was encouraged by the public debate over
privacy rights in the aftermath of the disclosures.
But now, he said, the media was more concerned with "what I
said when I was 17 or what my girlfriend looks like rather than,
say, the largest program of suspicionless surveillance in human
Snowden's father, Lonnie, said in an interview on Fox News
that he hoped his son would return to the United States to fight
any potential criminal charges.
"I would like to see Ed come home and face this. I shared
that with the government when I spoke with them. I love my son,"
he told Fox, adding "I hope, I pray" that he does not commit any
acts that could be considered treason.
"I sense that you're under much stress (from) what I've read
recently, and (ask) that you not succumb to that stress ... and
make a bad decision," Lonnie Snowden said in an interview
published on the channel's website.
He denied press reports that his son was a high school
dropout, saying that after a lengthy illness at the start of his
sophomore year, his son enrolled in community college and
eventually got a high school equivalency degree.