The four laptop computers that former US spy contractor Edward Snowden carried with him to Hong Kong and Moscow were a “diversion” and contained no secrets, according to an ex-CIA official who met with Snowden in Russia this week.
The classified documents that Snowden had downloaded from the US National Security Agency (NSA) were not kept on his laptop, but were stored on smaller devices, such as hard drives and thumb drives, and they have not been turned over to Russian or Chinese intelligence agencies, said Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst.
On Wednesday, Snowden held a six-hour meeting in Moscow with McGovern and three other former US intelligence and law enforcement officials who have all become critics of government surveillance programs.
Snowden, 30, is living in a secret location in Russia, beyond the reach of US authorities who want him on espionage charges because he leaked the details of top-secret electronic spying programs to the media.
He had traveled to Hong Kong in May and later, under pressure from China, flew to Moscow.
US officials have said that they were operating on the assumption that any classified materials downloaded by Snowden have fallen into the hands of Chinese and Russian authorities, though the officials acknowledge they have no proof of this.
McGovern said Snowden made it clear at their meeting on Wednesday that there was “nothing on” his laptops.
The former CIA analyst had traveled to Russia to give Snowden an award for “Integrity in Intelligence.”
The other Americans who went with him were former FBI agent Coleen Rowley, former US Department of Justice official Jesselyn Radack and former NSA official Thomas Drake, who the US government had prosecuted for allegedly leaking secrets about an NSA surveillance project called “Trailblazer.”
In a telephone interview from Moscow, McGovern said Snowden told him that Drake was the “model” for his decision to leak US secrets. In 2011 the US government dropped all of the charges against Drake except for a relatively minor charge, to which he pleaded guilty.
McGovern said Snowden had “no regrets at all and he said it very convincingly.”
Snowden is “well protected,” but also said he “can do pretty much what I like” and can “get out and about,” McGovern said.
He declined to discuss where and how they met with Snowden, but he said that they had to pass through metal detectors before the meeting and that Snowden appeared to be attended by some kind of official Russian security detail.
WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange and his close collaborator Sarah Harrison, a British journalism student who has been helping Snowden, played a major role in arranging for the meeting to take place, McGovern said.
Harrison remained with Snowden as he spent several weeks in legal limbo in a Moscow airport transit zone and stayed in Russia after he was granted temporary asylum.
McGovern said that at his Moscow hotel, he met Lon Snowden, Edward’s father, who traveled this week to try to see his son. He said Edward Snowden indicated an eagerness to reconnect with his father.
The Russian news agency Interfax on Friday reported that Edward and Lon Snowden had “quite an emotional meeting” at an undisclosed location.
No other details were available and Anatoly Kucherena — the Russian lawyer who has been assisting Edward Snowden — could not be reached for comment.