Snowden says he was more than a low-level hacker

Published: .
Updated: .

In his first American network television interview, fugitive National Security leaker Edward Snowden tells NBC News he was not the low-level analyst the Obama Administration portrayed him to be.

He says he was trained as a spy and worked undercover overseas.

"Were you trained as a spy?" Williams asked. "It seems to me spies probably look a lot more like Ed Snowden and a lot less like James Bond these days?"

"Well, 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 replied. "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.

"Now, the government might deny these things, they might frame it in certain ways and say, 'Oh well, you know, he's...he's a low level analyst. But what they're trying to do is they're trying to use one position that I've had in a career here or there to distract from the totality of my experience, which is that 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," he continued. "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."

He's not the "hacker" President Barack Obama and members of Congress dismissed last June.

"No, I'm not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker."

"I hope we do not decide that our national security interests are going to be determined by a high school dropout who had a whole series of academic and employment troubles," said Rep. Mike Rogers of the House Intelligence Committee.

But even his harshest critics acknowledge Snowden is smart and knew how to exploit the system.

"The most massive and most damaging theft of intelligence information in our history by Edward Snowden," said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

Michael Leiter is an NBC News analyst and serves on an NSA advisory panel.

"The government is still working through to understand exactly what Edward Snowden got. They know what he had access to, but understanding exactly what he downloaded and exactly what he has, when you are talking about millions of documents, is a very significant task," Leiter said.

Williams' exclusive interview with Snowden airs Wednesday night at 10:00 on Channel 13.