National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden said Monday that he’s willing to return to the U.S. and serve time in prison but won’t allow the government to use him to punish other whistleblowers.
“I’ve volunteered to go to prison with the government many times,” Snowden told the BBC’s Panorama.
Snowden fled the U.S. after leaking sensitive information about the NSA that outraged the public. He’s currently in Russia.
“What I won’t do is I won’t serve as a deterrent to people trying to do the right thing in difficult situations,” Snowden said.
The NSA leaker told the BBC that the U.S. Department of Justice has yet to respond to his offer.
Despite his willingness to pay the price for leaking U.S. secrets, Snowden hasn’t softened his criticism of government surveillance efforts.
The whistleblower outlined a number of spy tools used by the British GCHQ intelligence agency, which shares assets with the United States’ NSA.
“They want to own your phone instead of you,” he said of the agency’s “Smurf Suite” of phone hacking technology.
“Dreamy Smurf is the power management tool which means turning your phone on and off with you knowing,” he said.
“Nosey Smurf is the ‘hot mic’ tool. For example if it’s in your pocket, [GCHQ] can turn the microphone on and listen to everything that’s going on around you — even if your phone is switched off because they’ve got the other tools for turning it on.
“Tracker Smurf is a geo-location tool which allows [GCHQ] to follow you with a greater precision than you would get from the typical triangulation of cellphone towers,” he explained.
According to Snowden, intelligence officials have the ability to control cellphones by sending a simple text message to unwitting users.
“It’s called an ‘exploit,’” he told BBC. “That’s a specially crafted message that’s texted to your number like any other text message; but when it arrives at your phone, it’s hidden from you. It doesn’t display. You paid for it [the phone], but whoever controls the software owns the phone.”
Snowden described GCHQ as “a subsidiary of the NSA.”
As for whether the U.S. government will allow Snowden back in the country, officials aren’t so sure.
“If you’re asking my opinion, he’s going to die in Moscow,” former NSA Director Michael Hayden told The Guardian. “He’s not coming home.”