TIME Cambodia

Trafficking Activist Somaly Mam Is Accused of Faking Her Life Story

Cambodian activist Somaly Mam (R) accepts a "Woman of the Year" award with a child she rescued from sexual slavery, during the 2006 Glamour Magazine "Women of the Year" Honors award show in New York City October 30, 2006. Lucas Jackson—Reuters

Following a Newsweek article, and a legal probe that found several alleged inconsistencies in her oft-cited biography, Mam has quit the NGO she helped found

Somaly Mam, the world-renowned campaigner against sex trafficking, and a TIME 100 alumni from 2009, resigned Wednesday from the organization she started, after a probe found apparent inconsistencies in the shocking personal history she has frequently cited when raising funds for her cause.

The Somaly Mam Foundation’s executive director Gina Reiss-Wilchins published a statement on the organization’s website, expressing “heartfelt disappointment” over Mam’s decision, which came after a two-month investigation by a legal firm the foundation hired to investigate the allegations of falsification.

The firm looked at various claims made by Mam, including her being sold into sexual slavery at a young age.

Mam’s resignation comes a week after a May 21 Newsweek article, which questioned several of the central assertions of her autobiography, The Road of Lost Innocence, such as her being an orphan and having been abducted.

“We remain grateful to Somaly’s work over the past two decades and for helping to build a foundation that has served thousands of women and girls,” stated Reiss-Wilchins. “We look forward to moving past these events and focusing all of our energies on this vital work.”

TIME Egypt

Al-Sisi Wins Egypt’s Presidency But Is Stumbling Already

Supporters hold up posters of Egypt's former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as they celebrate at Tahrir square in Cairo May 28, 2014.
Supporters hold up posters of Egypt's former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as they celebrate at Tahrir square in Cairo May 28, 2014. Amr Abdallah Dalsh—Reuters

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has won what is being called a "landslide" victory but the low voter turnout—by every count well under 50 percent—has undermined his savior image and deprived him of the mandate he so eagerly sought

As fully expected, the man who deposed Egypt’s last elected president — and who has been running the country for the 10 months since — will remain in charge. Early on Thursday, supporters of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, said the former field marshal had garnered 23.38 million votes, while his only opponent, the leftist political activist Hamdeen Sabahi, was said to have notched up just 735,285.

But if the outcome of the election was never really in doubt, the way balloting unfolded this week had the perverse effect of undermining the winner — and in more ways than one. Embarrassingly low voter turnout has cast a shadow over al-Sisi’s victory, which he had framed as a request for a “mandate” from an Egyptian public that government and private media alike portrayed as in rapturous thrall of the career soldier. The Sabahi campaign said just 25 percent of voters showed up at polls during the two days of official voting; an Egyptian official put the figure at “about 37 percent.” Neither figure could be confirmed by independent observers, but both were well below the 52 percent turnout in the 2012 presidential ballot.

Perhaps worse for al-Sisi, in political terms, was the decision to extend voting to a third day in order to boost turnout — a move that only served to emphasize the lonely emptiness of numerous polling places. His campaign sought to distance itself from the extension, which even according to official sources quoted by Reuters early Wednesday produced barely half the 80 percent turnout al-Sisi had sought. In the end, an election carefully presented as the public coronation of a new military strongman turned out to be something else altogether: A display of the deep and wide cleavages in the nation of 80-million the new president will have to govern.

Those divisions were what prompted al-Sisi to dispose of Morsi, whose Islamist Muslim Brotherhood government had ruled with a high hand after just scraping into office. But the tensions have been exacerbated by the crackdown al-Sisi enforced against Morsi supporters. Despite the hagiography of al-Sisi by Egyptian media, a rare external public opinion survey released May 22 found that only 54 percent of Egyptians approved of al-Sisi – the same percentage who approved his removal of Morsi (who had enjoyed similar approval ratings just a year earlier).

The poll, conducted by the well-regarded Pew Charitable Trusts, based in Washington DC and Philadelphia, questioned 1,000 Egyptians in face-to-face interviews in mid-April. It found the Brotherhood retained significant support in Egypt — 38 percent voiced a favorable opinion of the group, despite it being dubbed a terrorist organization last December by the interim government al-Sisi put in place. Brotherhood supporters had called for a boycott of the presidential ballot, and the low turnout might indicate a measure of success: Rank and file of the Nour Party, the most prominent remaining Islamist party, reportedly ignored their leaders’ instructions to cast ballots.

Voters found other reasons to stay home as well — including a heat wave that Sisi’s campaign cited on its website. But the net effect of the disappointing turnout was to shine a spotlight on the one word that Morsi supporters have made their slogan since his removal: “Legitimacy.” His supporters shout it as they march into the courtroom where the deposed president is on trial.

“I’m not sure what we’re looking for in Sisi,” Ali Desoke, the owner of a modest central Cairo sandwich shop said in a pre-election interview. “Are we looking for a new hero? A new pharaoh?” The Pew poll had an answer to that as well, asking Egyptians whether democracy was more important, or a stable government without full democracy. Unlike a year ago, a majority — once again, 54 percent —– said a stable government was more important.

That appears to be what al-Sisi is giving them. Though running as protector of the 2011 revolution that ended President Hosni Mubarak’s three decades of autocratic rule, al-Sisi presided over an interim government that banned public demonstrations, killed 1,000 Brotherhood supporters and arrested more than 20,000 people, including prominent journalists.

“The Egyptian people and democracy, it doesn’t work like it does in Europe,” Ahlam Ali Mohamed, a 47-year-old housewife in Alexandria, who voted for Sisi, told Reuters. “I voted today because I want to feel safe.”

Sisi’s campaign was founded on that desire. “If this framework is not tight between the police, the people, the courts and the government, Egypt is in danger,” Hazem Abdel Azim, a senior campaign official told TIME earlier this month. “It’s very important to have this binding relationship.”

Others toyed with the reductionist notion that — after thousands of years under pharaohs, kings and, since 1953, career military men — Egyptians embraced the familiar. “It’s easy to be determinist, to say after 7,000 years of Pharaohs, our government perhaps hasn’t changed over time, because we haven’t thought it would be any other way: One strong ruler,” says Mohamed Lotfy, a founder of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedom, an independent human rights group. But he goes on to observe that the French struggled under despots for decades after their revolution, and that the last three years have left Egyptians exhausted — another explanation for the low turnout.

“People got tired of calling for change and not getting what they want,” Lotfy says.

Indeed, Pew found dissatisfaction with the way things are going in Egypt, at 72 percent, higher than before the 2011 revolution. Desoke, the sandwich maker who asked if Egyptians want another pharaoh, supports Sisi but considers his candidacy a colossal mistake. “By running, he’s losing a lot,” he says, “and if he wins he will lose even more. Because the problems are still there. Look at the problem of the economy.

“We came out in demonstrations against Morsi because the electricity was being cut. And when Sisi takes over the electricity will still be cut.”

TIME indonesia

What Indonesia Can Teach Thailand and Egypt About Democracy (and Vice Versa)

Indonesia Election
A member of the An-Nadzir Muslim sect shows his inked finger after casting his ballot at a polling station during the Indonesian parliamentary elections in Gowa, South Sulawesi province, on April 9, 2014 Masyudi S. Firmansyah—AP

With democracy besieged in much of Asia and the Muslim world, Indonesia is something of a beacon. The world's most populous Muslim nation has successfully rid its politics of military intervention, and is about to embark on another free and fair direct election for its next leader

A coup in Thailand. A landslide electoral victory in Egypt for a former military chief who overthrew an elected government. Democracy remains elusive in much of Southeast Asia and in much of the Muslim world. Yet, one Muslim-majority country in Southeast Asia proves it is not necessarily so.

Indonesia, which holds both parliamentary and presidential elections this year, is a testament to transformation. In 2001, three years after the fall of authoritarian President Suharto, Indonesia faced a multitude of crises, from Christian-Muslim sectarian strife and Islamist terrorist attacks, to separatist conflicts. That year, Thaksin Shinawatra won elections by landslide and became Thailand’s Prime Minister, but Indonesia’s first democratically elected President, Abdurrahman Wahid, popularly known as Gus Dur, was forced to step down after months of wrangling with lawmakers.

And yet, instead of turning to the men in uniform, Indonesia pressed ahead with political reform — reformasi, as it’s called in Bahasa Indonesia. In 2004, it not only held its first directly elected presidential vote (Gus Dur was elected by legislators), but the military lost its reserved parliamentary seats. “Reformasi achieved a great accomplishment for Indonesian democracy: pushing the military back into the barracks,” says Ulil Abshar Abdalla, an associate researcher at the Jakarta-based think tank Freedom Institute.

On July 9, Indonesia is set to choose its next President, in the third poll in which voters can directly elect their country’s top leader. The two presidential contenders are polar opposites. Joko Widodo is a soft-spoken and immensely popular Jakarta Governor. Prabowo Subianto is a former special-forces commander with a dubious human-rights record and infamously fiery temper.

Prabowo’s camp touts the ex-general as a decisive and firm leader, while Joko’s camp takes pride in his humble and down-to-earth quality. “One represents the culture of a tough military commander, and the other the culture of ordinary, rather than aristocratic, Javanese people,” wrote senior editor Endy Bayuni in the Jakarta Post.

Although the military is out of politics, many retired officers build their second career in it. Prabowo naturally attracts quite a few former soldiers, and there are a number on Joko’s side too, including Wiranto, the Hanura Party’s founder who, in 2000, lost his post as Security Minister over alleged involvement in East Timor’s referendum violence.

But no retired officer is more polarizing than Prabowo. His critics see the 62-year-old as part of Suharto’s authoritarian regime — he was married to a daughter of Suharto, joined elite military units and took part in military operations in the separatist provinces of East Timor and Irian Jaya. His quick rise through the ranks was cut short in 1998 after he was discharged from the military because of his alleged role in the abduction of pro-democracy activists in the months before the fall of Suharto.

His Gerindra Party has formed a coalition with three Islamic parties, two of which are known for intolerant views toward religious minorities. Gerindra’s manifesto has also raised alarm. While it guarantees freedom of religion, it also says that “the state is required to guarantee the purity of teachings of the religions acknowledged by the state from all forms of defamation and deviation.” That is likely to spell more trouble to groups like the Shi‘ite and Ahmadi Muslims, who are frequent victims of violence and intolerance.

Although opinion polls show that Prabowo has gained ground, the 52-year-old Joko, nicknamed Jokowi, is the front runner in the presidential race. But even if Prabowo wins the election, some analysts argue that it will be difficult for him to bring back military rule. “Indonesia’s democratic institutions are pretty solid and can’t be overturned by him,” Ulil says, adding that people should be more worried about “the radical forces around him that support his agenda.”

Prabowo himself tries to assuage fears. “I don’t want to lead in an authoritarian manner,” he said on Twitter, responding to a tweet that suggested if the former general became President, he could follow in the footsteps of the Thai junta, which threatened to block social media (and, according to some reports, briefly did so on Wednesday). “Whatever my political rivals say, I support freedom of the press and of expression.”

But many remain skeptical. “The first obstacle that we have to face,” said Fadjroel Rachman, a student activist turned political commentator, “is the return of the danger of fascism.” And if anything, Indonesia should look to Thailand and Egypt to draw the most important lesson of all: democracy should never be something to be taken for granted.

TIME central african republic

‘A Question of Humanity’: Witness to the Turning Point In Central African Republic

Almost six months after thousands of foreign peacekeepers waded into Central African Republic in a bid to control the fallout from street fighting that left hundreds dead in the capital of Bangui, they remain unable to stem the killing and population shift that has begun to redefine its makeup.

Their arrival under a United Nations mandate forced a retreat by the disbanded militants of Séléka, the mainly Muslim rebel coalition that seized control earlier that year and began a campaign of looting and killing largely against non-Muslims. But that power void, exacerbated by a lax justice system, was quickly filled by anti-balaka. The groups of armed vigilantes, initially organized to combat local crime and whose ranks of Christians and animists includes ex-soldiers, have fought back against the militants and furiously targeted the Muslim minority, which they view as complicit in Séléka’s unpunished abuses.

Anti-balaka now stand accused of crimes worse than what prompted their retaliation as the burning of whole villages and gruesome mutilations, among other threats and attacks, have killed an untold number of people and pushed hundreds of thousands of others from their homes. Amid tales of ethnic cleansing in the west and as reports of crude attacks surface in the east, where Séléka remains in control and is regrouping, the country continues to slide into perhaps the bloodiest and most unstable crossroads of its independence.

Italian photojournalist Ugo Lucio Borga, of the Echo Photo Agency, witnessed this turning point first-hand when he arrived in January. He took advantage of a connection with an army sergeant-turned-commander of a Bangui-based anti-balaka militia, who he met years ago in the remote southeast while covering the hunt for Joseph Kony, the elusive leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. With prime access to their day-to-day happenings, he could document the conflict as anti-balaka became more brazen and learn more about the fighters beyond the amulets they wear as “protection.”

“They are really young people without education, without culture, but they needed to do something to stop the violence from the Séléka,” he told TIME. With most schools out of operation and seemingly few families who hadn’t seen bloodshed, he could see why they so easily took up arms. “Now the problem is that they know what war really means and they have become another people. They are now fighters.”

Throughout his trip, during which he also shadowed French troops and peacekeepers from Rwanda and Burundi, Borga saw the effect on children—“after one year of violence, continued violence, they consider the situation normal”—and became more aware of the roots of the conflict. The fighting, after decades of corruption and meddling by external influencers, appeared to take on a more religious undertone and sparked concerns of a partition in a country where Christians and Muslims have historically lived in peace, despite instances of marginalization. But Borga found that not all anti-balaka wanted to outright rid the country of its Muslims. This specific militia told him they targeted foreigners because, among other reasons, Séléka included militants from Chad and Sudan.

Borga left in February having captured a series of raw, intense scenes that stand out for their intimacy. He plans to return ahead of the elections, scheduled for February 2015, but knows that making a big influence is a tall order when the conflict is so neglected on the international stage. Still, it’s the ability to inform that drives him, as well as an innate curiosity as to how it will end: “I think it’s a question of humanity, if it exists somewhere.”

TIME Thailand

Thai Junta Releases Some Detainees but Many Activists Are Still in Hiding

Thailand's Military Coup Continues As General Prayuth Receives Royal Endorsement
Thai military officers arrest a protester as tensions rise during anti coup protests in Bangkok on May 28, 2014 Paula Bronstein—Getty Images

The junta says it has released 124 individuals from extrajudicial detention, but 76 are still being held and scores of activists are in hiding or on the run

Many prominent activists and politicians were released by Thailand’s ruling military on Wednesday, but a brief Facebook blackout had opponents of last Thursday’s coup convinced that the junta was embarking on even more draconian censorship.

On Wednesday, the junta claimed to have released 124 people, but 76 politicians, intellectuals and activists remain in extrajudicial detention. An additional 53 individuals summoned by the military have not reported as ordered, said a spokesperson.

One of those released was Thida Thavornseth, the former chairwoman of United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), the main Red Shirt organization. She remains under house arrest and was warned not to leave the country or participate in political activities.

“[The military] will be in trouble if they stay in control for a long time,” she tells TIME. “Not from UDD members, but middle-class people and intellectuals cannot have their freedom taken away. They should have a roadmap and pave the way for new elections.”

Also on Wednesday, Facebook went down for around 40 minutes, prompting outrage across the social-networking-obsessed Southeast Asian nation and eliciting this wry tweet from political commentator and journalist Saksith Saiyasombut.

Although the army initially denied that it had ordered the blockage, Surachai Srisaracam, permanent secretary of the Information and Communications Technology Ministry, told Reuters, “We have blocked Facebook temporarily, and tomorrow we will call a meeting with other social media, like Twitter and Instagram, to ask for cooperation from them.”

On May 22, Thai army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha seized power in the country’s 12th military coup d’état since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932. Key politicians, academics and activists have been arbitrarily detained, television channels taken off air and a nightly curfew imposed, although the latter may soon be lifted in key tourist zones.

Former Education Minister Chaturon Chaisaeng is one of those still detained, and is due to be tried in military court later this week for his criticism of the coup.

“The military trial of a civilian without a lawyer, or means to prepare a defense, is really no trial at all but a travesty of justice,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Thai junta should immediately end its arrests of peaceful critics and revoke its order allowing the trial of civilians before military courts.”

Many others remain in hiding. “I had to leave my home as some of my friends were arrested, and I didn’t feel safe,” one activist, who asked to remain anonymous, says by phone from a safe house in the northern city of Chiang Mai. “I feel horrible, I don’t know what will happen.”

General Prayuth received royal backing for his coup on Monday, but refused to answer questions regarding a timetable for elections. Reconciliation centers have been set up around the country, and debts owed to rice farmers from a calamitous pledging scheme, run by the now deposed government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, are being paid.

Nevertheless, the national economy continues to suffer. GDP shrank 2.1% in the first quarter of 2014, and factory output tumbled 3.9% in April from the previous year, marking over a year of consecutive monthly declines. The crucial tourist industry makes up 10% of GDP, but footfall is slated to plummet up to 40%. Experts say a recession is likely.

Scores of high-ranking police with alleged links to the beleaguered Shinawatra clan have meanwhile been removed from office. While the military top brass is perceived as favoring the political establishment, the police force is considered a pro-Shinawatra institution.

Both pro- and antimilitary demonstrations continue in Bangkok, though numbers are dwindling. At the Victory Monument, security officials were jeered, plastic water bottles hurled and anticoup slogans spray-painted on an army Humvee.

“We want the military to step down, this is not freedom,” says Theerac Arrom, a 20-year-old philosophy student at Bangkok’s Mahidol University. “People must be able to criticize, analyze and understand their government. But my country just lies sleeping.”


India’s Modi and China’s Xi: Frenemies, or Just Plain Enemies?

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi comes out of a meeting room to receive his Bhutanese counterpart Tshering Tobgay before the start a bilateral meeting in New Delhi on May 27, 2014 Adnan Abidi—Reuters

With two nationalists in power, relations between the world’s two most populous nations could turn even frostier

Narendra Modi, the newly installed Prime Minister of India, has no shortage of problems to tackle. The slumping economy requires a hefty dose of difficult reforms to get moving again. Malnourishment, miserable health conditions and a lack of opportunity haunt hundreds of millions of poor. Corruption is out of control. Unrest is rampant in the country’s east. And then there is the pesky issue of foreign policy, especially the ongoing tensions with India’s neighbors. That means Pakistan, of course, but also that other Asian giant — China.

China and India would appear to have endless reasons to cooperate. The world’s two most populous nations are both developing nations eager to improve the welfare of their 2.6 billion people and attain their rightful position on the world stage. In the 1950s, in the early years of India’s independence, hopes were high that India and China would be close allies, a spirit captured in a phrase popular at the time — “Hindi, Chini, bhai bhai,” or “Indians and Chinese are brothers.” Those high expectations were dashed in 1962, when China armed forces invaded India over border disputes. The war was a humiliation for the Indians and left New Delhi’s relations with Beijing under a permanent dark cloud.

Still today, the two warily glare at each other over that contested border, their disagreements left unresolved. China continually presses its claims to pieces of Indian territory; India continues to annoy China by sheltering the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader Beijing considers a dangerous separatist. The last Indian administration, led by Congress’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, tried its best to appear friendly with China, smiling at BRIC summits and promoting greater economic exchange, but “Hindi, Chini, bhai bhai” remains a distant memory.

Now comes Modi. Though generally tight-lipped on foreign policy matters, India’s new leader is known as a nationalist figure, and therefore probably more prone to stand up to China, especially on sensitive issues like their continued border disputes. During a February visit to Arunachal Pradesh, a state in India’s far east that China claims as “South Tibet,” Modi took a hard line on the issue. “No power on earth can snatch away Arunachal Pradesh,” Modi boomed in a speech. “The world does not welcome the mind-set of expansion in today’s times. China will also have to leave behind its mind-set of expansion.”

On the other side, Chinese President Xi Jinping has been living up to his own reputation as a nationalist. He has embroiled China in a series of territorial disputes with Japan, the Philippines and, most recently, Vietnam. Xi made a similar stab at India only weeks after he formally took office. In April 2013, a contingent of Chinese soldiers set up a camp in a disputed region along the border between the two countries in Ladakh, setting up a tense confrontation that lasted several weeks. The incident eventually ended peacefully, but members of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were irate over what they saw as a wimpy response from the Congress government. “You may have some security options, you may have some diplomatic options, but being clueless is not an option,” the BJP’s Arun Jaitley, Modi’s Finance Minister, criticized at the time. Such strong words offer an indication of how Modi might respond in similar crises on his watch. “China has this inexplicable proclivity to needle India and test it with these minor provocations at inopportune times,” says Jeff Smith, a fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council and author of the book Cold Peace: China-India Rivalry in the Twenty-First Century. “If they continue you will have more pressure on a Modi government to respond with a little more machismo.”

Such an outcome, however, is not guaranteed. Beijing seems to be taking a surprisingly soft stance on Modi. After his strong comments in Arunachal Pradesh in February, the response from the often rabidly nationalist Chinese state media was unusually muted. A commentary in the state-run Global Times called Modi’s statement “harsh,” but went on to dismiss it as pre-election rhetoric. “There is no need to exaggerate the significance of Modi’s remarks,” the newspaper noted. China has so many other foreign policy headaches on its plate that it may not need to create another with Modi. Beijing is embroiled in a range of contentious issues with the U.S. — from cyberspying to trade spats — while its aggressive moves on territorial disputes in East Asia have alarmed many of its neighbors. Since Modi’s election, the Chinese press has been talking up the benefits of China-India cooperation. The China Daily, in an editorial congratulating Modi on his victory, stressed the two countries’ shared interests. “The common aspiration for prosperity and subsequent need for a peaceful environment for national development give the two neighbors additional reasons to forge a more constructive relationship,” the newspaper said.

Modi might feel the same. He swept to power on the hope that he could revive India’s economic growth, and Chinese investment and trade could help him do that. As chief minister of Gujarat, he already saw the value in tapping China’s economic strength. In 2011, he visited China and made a salesman’s pitch to woo Chinese companies to India. “Our job in the government is to create the right kind of environment for you to come and enjoy your creativity,” Modi pronounced in a speech in Chengdu.

There is even some talk that Modi’s nationalist credentials might make it easier for him to score a diplomatic breakthrough with China. One Chinese political commentator mused that Modi is “likely to become India’s ‘Nixon,’” referring to the hard-line U.S. President’s surprise accommodation with Mao in the 1970s. “There is a bigger window for material improvement in India-China relations under Modi, but there is also a bigger window for confrontation,” says Smith. Which route Modi and Xi choose will determine if “Hindi, Chini, bhai bhai” can become reality, or remain a distant dream.

TIME South Korea

Daughter of Korean Businessman Wanted in Ferry Disaster Arrested

Commuters at a train station in Seoul walk past a screen displaying the wanted poster for Yoo Byung-eun and others, on Monday, May 26, 2014. Lee Jin-man—AP

Yoo Som-Na is detained in Paris after Korean prosecutors filed an Interpol "red notice" against her and her brother

The daughter of Yoo Byung-eun, the fugitive South Korean businessman wanted in connection with the April 16 Sewol ferry tragedy, appeared before a court in Paris on Wednesday.

French authorities detained Yoo Som-Na under an international arrest warrant for embezzlement, and they are expected to extradite her, Yonhap News Agency reports.

Korean police had earlier filed an Interpol “red notice” against Yoo Som-Na and her brother Yoo Hyuk-ki, who are believed to be involved in or controlling Chonghaejin Marine Co., the company that owned and operated the ill-fated ferry.

Chonghaejin allegedly ignored safety warnings ahead of the disaster, which claimed about 300 lives.

Warrants are still out for Som-Na’s father and brother.

TIME intelligence

Snowden: ‘There Are Some Things Worth Dying For’

The NSA leaker said he sees himself as a patriot in his first interview with a U.S. television network, which aired Wednesday night

Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, stands by his decision to leak a huge collection of classified National Security Agency documents that revealed extensive, global U.S. government surveillance programs.

“There are some things worth dying for,” Snowden said in an interview with NBC News’ Brian Williams that aired late Wednesday, “I think the country is one of them.” The interview was his first with a U.S. television network since he fled from Hawaii to Hong Kong a year ago with classified materials.

Snowden has been living for the better part of a year under asylum in Russia and said if given the opportunity he’d like to go home.

“If I could go anywhere in the world, that place would be home,” he said. The leaker made similar comments in an interview in January.

Snowden told Williams he attempted to travel to Latin America to seek asylum after leaving Hong Kong, but was left stranded in Moscow airport after the U.S. revoked his passport. The Kremlin granted Snowden temporary asylum, which expires at the end of July and which Snowden says he will ask to extend. He has been charged in the United States with theft and espionage.

Secretary of State John Kerry had harsh words in response to Snowden’s statement that he’d like to return to the United States.

“Edward Snowden is a coward,” Kerry told MSNBC. “He is a traitor. And he has betrayed his country. And if he wants to come home tomorrow to face the music, he can do so.”

In his denunciation of Snowden, Kerry said, “Patriots don’t go to Russia,” but Snowden told NBC that he sees himself as a patriot.

“I’ve from day one said that I’m doing this to serve my country,” he said.

In his lengthy interview Wednesday, Snowden scolded his critics for exploiting the trauma of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to justify the surveillance programs he exposed. Intelligence officials have defended the programs as essential tools in the effort to combat terrorism.

“I’ve never told anybody this. No journalist,” he said. “But I was on Fort Meade on September 11th. I was right outside the NSA. So I remember — I remember the tension of that day. I remember hearing on the radio the planes hitting. And I remember thinking my grandfather, who worked for the FBI at the time, was in the Pentagon when the plane hit it. I take the threat of terrorism seriously. And I think we all do.”

Snowden fired back at assertions made by American officials that he was little more than low-level tech support for the intelligence community, saying he was “trained as a spy” and worked undercover for both the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency. He also rejected the assertion, made to TIME by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, that he is being controlled by Russian intelligence officials. “I have no relationship with the Russian government at all,” he said.

Despite his stated desire to come back, Snowden brushed off questions about whether or not he would make a deal with the U.S. government in order to return.

“My priority is not about myself,” he said. “It’s about making sure that these programs are reformed — and that the family that I left behind, the country that I left behind, can be helped by my actions.”

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