Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, later dismissed the possibility.
"The government knows where to find us if they want to have a productive conversation about resolutions that don't involve Edward Snowden behind bars," said Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union, the central figure on Snowden's legal team.
Some news accounts have quoted U.S. government officials as saying Snowden has arranged for the automated release of sensitive documents if he is arrested or harmed. There are strong reasons to doubt that, beginning with Snowden's insistence, to this reporter and others, that he does not want the documents published in bulk.
If Snowden were fool enough to rig a "dead man's switch," confidants said, he would be inviting anyone who wants the documents to kill him.
Asked about such a mechanism in the Moscow interview, Snowden made a face and declined to reply. Later, he sent an encrypted message. "That sounds more like a suicide switch," he wrote. "It wouldn't make sense."
By temperament and circumstance, Snowden is a reticent man, reluctant to discuss details about his personal life.
Over two days his guard never dropped, but he allowed a few fragments to emerge. He is an "ascetic," he said. He lives off ramen noodles and chips. He has visitors, and many of them bring books. The books pile up, unread. The Internet is an endless library and a window on the progress of his cause.
"It has always been really difficult to get me to leave the house," he said. "I just don't have a lot of needs. . . . Occasionally there's things to go do, things to go see, people to meet, tasks to accomplish. But it's really got to be goal-oriented, you know. Otherwise, as long as I can sit down and think and write and talk to somebody, that's more meaningful to me than going out and looking at landmarks."