US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden warned of dangers to democracy in the first video released of the fugitive since Russia granted him temporary asylum in August.
“If we can’t understand the policies and programmes of our government we can’t grant our consent in regulating them,” Snowden said in one of the short video clips posted on the WikiLeaks website Friday night.
The anti-secrecy group said the videos were filmed Wednesday when Snowden met with a group of four retired US ex-intelligence workers and activists now seeking to promote ethics within the profession.
Snowden, a former National Security Agency computer administrator, is wanted in the United States for espionage and other charges after leaking details of vast US telephone and Internet surveillance programs.
Dressed in a black suit and blue shirt with no tie and looking at ease, Snowden reiterated the dangers of NSA surveillance, saying indiscriminate spying was a “far cry” from legitimate programmes.
“It’s a sort of dragnet mass surveillance that puts entire populations under a sort of eye that sees everything, even when it’s not needed,” he said.
“People all over the world are realising that these programmes don’t make us more safe, they hurt our economy, they hurt our country, they limit our ability to speak and think and live and be creative, to have relationships, to associate freely.”
The videos show Snowden and the four former US government employees chatting and smiling over dinner at a luxurious room in an unidentified location.
During the evening, former ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern gave Snowden an award — a symbolic candlestick — that acknowledges integrity in the profession.
“We are confident that others with similar moral fibre will follow his example in illuminating dark corners and exposing crimes that put our civil rights as free citizens in jeopardy,” WikiLeaks quoted McGovern as saying.
Also present were a beaming WikiLeaks employee Sarah Harrison, a British national who has accompanied Snowden since he arrived in Russia, and his Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena.
One of the attendees, former Department of Justice ethics advisor Jesselyn Radack, said Snowden looked “very healthy.”
“He was funny and engaging, he did not seem worried, he did not seem to have lost weight or appear pale or sick in any kind of way,” she said in televised remarks, predicting that more people might follow his example.
“I really think he’s had a wonderful effect for the US and for the world,” she said. “Courage is contagious.”
The 30-year-old spent over a month stuck in transit at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport before being granted asylum on August 1 despite repeated protests from Washington.
Since then his whereabouts have been a mystery. His pro-Kremlin lawyer Kucherena says Snowden is learning Russian, travelling and may soon get a job.
Earlier this week his father Lon Snowden arrived in Moscow and reportedly had an “emotional” meeting with his son.