Transcript of the Snowden NBC Interview with Brian Williams.
BW: Good evening I’m Brian Williams. He is routinely called the most wanted man in the world, and last week in Moscow, cloaked in secrecy and after months of behind-the-scenes back and forth,
we sat down with that Edward Snowden for his first American television interview.
Let's begin with a reminder of what this 30-year-old has done and why he's living in exile overseas,
wanted for espionage in this country. The classified documents he stole, downloaded from the NSA, and handed over to journalists blew the lead of data mining programs that had been launched in the wake of and in the name of 9/11. They have names like PRISM and BOUNDLESSINFORMANT and XKEYSCORE, some of them designed a vacuum up phone and internet data from companies like Verizon and Google and Apple and Yahoo and some of them, if directed could zero in on
any one of us.
[2:00] Snowden came to this interview clearly armed with talking points, ready to tell his story.
He knew he would be receiving no compensation and no question was off-limits. Already just today based on pre-release snippets of what you're about to see, Secretary of State John Kerry launched a full on frontal assault on Snowden, calling him a traitor challenging him to come home to face justice. And in just a moment we'll hear what Edward Snowden has to say about that.
[2:25] He arrived alone, carrying only a backpack into our Moscow hotel, he avoided the lobby, came up a back stairway, and into the elevator, and the moment he sat down and our camera focused in on him, it became clear that this was the first good long look at him the world has had. We'd seen him framed against that hotel window in Hong Kong and appearing via closed-circuit video from undisclosed locations, see but he was here now introducing himself as Ed.
[3:00] BW: A lot of people would say you have badly damaged your country.
ES: I'd say can you show that, is there any demonstration? Because I've been asking, the United States the press has been asking the United States government for a year now. If after year they can show a single individual who's been harmed in any way by this reporting, is it really so grave? Is really so serious and can we really trust those claims without scrutinizing?
I'd argue that we can't, but we should be open to it. It's fair, the possibility exists and if this has caused some serious harm, I personally would like to know about it.
BW: Former NSA director Keith Alexander has said “you have done quote significant
and irreversible damage to the nation” he said there is “concrete proof the terrorist groups and others are taking action, and making changes and it's going to make our job tougher. And this amounts to telling our enemy our playbook.”
[4:00] ES: So what's interesting is that we see the exact same language, the exact same accusations being leveled against whistleblowers, being labeled against any critic of any government program,
throughout history, throughout time.
BW: What are you doing in Russia?
ES: Right, so this is a really fair concern. I personally, am surprised that I ended up here. The reality is I never intended to end up in Russia. I had a flight booked to Cuba, onwards to Latin America,
and I was stopped because the United States government decided to revoke my passport and trapped me in the Moscow Airport. So when people ask me: “why are you in Russia?” I say: please ask the State Department.
BW The US State Department says Snowden's passport was pulled before he boarded that flight to Moscow, and yet he was somehow still able to leave Hong Kong,
the city he had chosen to fly to initially upon leaving the US.
[5:00] BW:A formerly high-ranking American official said to me, if Snowden's equivalent – Russian kid was in our hands in the United States we would be working mightily to (a) befriend him and absent that, infiltrate what he has, what he knows. What has your relationship been to the host
nation? Have you met Putin? Have you spoken with Putin?
ES: Right, so I have no relationship with Russian government at all. I've never met the Russian President. I'm not supported by the Russian government, I'm not taking money from the Russian government. I'm not a spy, which is the real question.
The best way to make sure that, for example, the Russians can't break my fingers and compromise information, or hit me with a bag of money until I give them something, was not to have it all. And the way to do that was by destroying the material that I was holding before I transited through Russia.
[6:00] BW: People gonna find it hard to believe that president Putin hasn't taken run at you
or what you know. You can state declaratively that that hasn't happened.
ES: Yeah. I mean the, the way, the way we need to think about this is, again I already know how to deal with counterintelligence. Beyond that, I took nothing to Russia, so I could give them nothing.
BW: You say you're not carrying around any of these materials, you've handed them off. If I gave you a laptop, could you access the documents?
ES: [laugh] No.
BW: No, no, you couldn't remotely electronically access material, it's –
BW: – it's gone from your control?
[7:00] ES: Right, I don't have any control. Let's put it this way: if I'm traveling through Russia – and I know I'm traveling through Russia – and I know they've got a very aggressive, very professional service, and I look like Tweety Bird to Sylvester the Cat, if I look like a little walking chicken leg with all these documents, if I got control over them, that's a very dangerous thing for me.
BW: We'll take our first break here, and up next when we continue, the impact of 9/11
on Edward Snowden.
ES: In 2004 I joined the US Army, I was injured very early on in the program and washed out.
BW: Going back almost a year to when this story first broke, Edward Snowden was defined early on, and not altogether accurately, the president famously called him a hacker, we in the news media passed along and repeated terms like Systems Analyst and outside contractor, that didn't really mean all that much, and according to Snowden, didn't really describe what he did for a living.
[8:00] BW: How do you define yourself? Are you – were you trained as a spy? Specifically I'm talking about this – the titles: a systems analyst, contractor. It seems to me spies probably look a lot more like Ed Snowden, and a lot less like James Bond these days.
ES: Well, it's no secret that the US tends to get more and better intelligence out of computers nowadays, than they do out of people. 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 well, you know he's a he's a low-level analyst. But what they're trying to do, is they're trying to use one position than I've had in a career here or there to distract from the totality 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. 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.
BW: Snowden says his life changed back when he was still a teenager on the worst day in modern American history.
[9:30] BW: What did 9/11 mean to you?
ES: I've never told anybody this – no journalist – but I was on Fort Meade on September 11th. I was right outside the NSA. So I remember, I remember the tension on that day. I remember hearing on the radio the planes hit, and I remember thinking my grandfather, who worked for the FBI at the time, was in the Pentagon when the plane hit it.
[See also: “Snowden on Patriotism” below]
[10:00] I take the threat of terrorism seriously, and I think we all do, and I think it's really disingenuous for, for the government to invoke, and sort of scandalize our memories, to sort of exploit the national trauma that we all suffered together, and worked so hard to come through, to justify programs
that have never been shown to keep us safe, but cost us liberties, and freedoms that we don't need to give up and our Constitution says we should not give up.
BW: Then there is this way of looking at it: our nation had been attacked in this nonlinear way,
we were hurting, post Pearl Harbor hurting, why not cast the widest net possible? Innocent people around the country were – all felt the same way: I've got nothing to hide, we've gotta find this enemy week can't see.
[11:00] ES: The definition of a security state, is any nation that prioritizes security over all other considerations. I don't believe the United States is, or ever should be, a security state. If we want to be free we can't become subject to surveillance, we can't give away our privacy, we can't give away our rights. We have to be an active party, we have to be an active part of our government. And we have to say there are some things worth dying for, and I think the country is one of them.
BW: Like a lot of young men in our country, and especially given the fact that your grandfather was at the FBI, your dad's a vet, like a lot of the young men across America are you wanted to join up,and you did.
[12:00] ES: in 2004 I joined the US Army under the 18 X-Ray Special Forces recruit program, now I have to give high respect to to everyone in the military, and especially graduates of those programs because they are better men than I. I was injured very early on in the program and washed out.
And you know I, readily admit it, I don't hide that.
BW: Snowden reportedly left the military after breaking both of his legs in training.
ES: But the fact is that I tried. You know, I saw what was going on in the world. I believed the government's arguments that we were going to do good things in Iraq, that we were going to free the oppressed and I wanted to do my part, to help share the national burden, and create not just a better America but a better world.
[13:00] ES: The problem was, as as time went on, as I rised – rose, to higher and higher levels and intelligence community, as I gained more and more access, as I saw more and more classified information at the highest levels. I realized that so many of the things that we're told by the government simply aren't true, much like the arguments about aluminum tubes and weapons of mass destruction
in Iraq. Colin Powell's speech with the vial of anthrax that Saddam was going to, to bring against us.
The Iraq War that I signed up for was launched on false premises, the American people were misled. Now whether that was due to bad faith, or simply mistakes of intelligence, I can't say for sure. But I can say it shows the problem of putting too much faith in intelligence systems without debating them in public. We have systems...
BW: We'll take another break here. Coming up how Edward Snowden says the NSA can reach into our lives via our phone.
[14:00] ES: As soon as you turn it on it can be theirs, they can turn into a microphone, they can take pictures from it.
BW: Welcome back. In the name of 9/11, the government was now able, if they wanted to. to use our computers to reach into American lives and American homes, unbeknownst to the citizens of this country. Over time, Edward Snowden says he started thinking it was a perversion of the war on terrorism. Whatever you think of him, what Edward Snowden told us about spying on our data and our personal devices was chilling, and as an example we used the phone in my hand.
[15:00] BW: I want to ask about this device, this is not my iPhone, this is what drug dealers resort to, this is called a burner, it's a temporary, it's the one I brought to cover the Olympics because our IT people told me that the Russians are so good at infiltration. How good? And how are the Americans? What can the NSA do with this device if they wanted to get into my life?
ES: So first off that's probably the most expensive burner I've ever seen. [laughs] but I guess we're at the upmarket...
BW: I'm using term of art.
ES: …drug dealer here.
BW: … This is turned off....
ES: The NSA...
BW: ...it's inert.
ES: Right, the NSA the Russian intelligence service, the Chinese intelligence service, any intelligence service in the world that has significant funding, and a real technological research team can own that phone the minute it connects to their network. As soon as you turn it on it can be theirs, they can turn into a microphone they can take pictures from it, they can take the data off of it. But it's important to understand that these things are typically done on a targeted basis. Right, it's only done when people go “this phone is suspicious. I think it's being held by a drug dealer I think it's being used by a terrorist.”
[16:00] BW: Can anyone turn it on remotely if it's off? Can they turn on apps? Did anyone know or care that I Googled the final score of the Rangers - Canadiens game last night because I was traveling
ES: I would say I yes to all those. They can absolutely turn them on with the power turned off to the device. That's pretty scary but the thing about the Rangers game is also scarey. You might say: does anybody really care that I'm looking up the score for the Rangers game? Well, a government or a hacker or some other nefarious individual would say yes, they're very interested in that, because that tells a lot about you. First off, it tells you probably speak English, it says you're probably an American, you're interested in this sport. And they might know what your habits are? where were you when the world when you checked the score? Did you check it when you travel or did you check it when you're just at home?
[17:00] They'd be able to tell something called your pattern of life: when are you doing these kind activities? When do you wake up, when do you go to sleep? What other phones are around you when you wake up and go to sleep? Are you with someone who's not your wife? Are you doing something? Are you someplace you shouldn't be? According to the government, which is arbitrary. Are
are you engaged in any kind of activities that we disapprove of, even if they aren't technically illegal. And all these things can raise your level of scrutiny, even if it seems entirely innocent to you even if you have nothing to hide, even if you doing nothing wrong. These activities can be misconstrued, misinterpreted, and used to harm you as an individual even without the government having any intent
to do you wrong. The problem is that the capabilities themselves, are unregulated uncontrolled and dangerous.
[18:00] BW: All because I Googled “Rangers Canadiens final score?”
BW: Snowden says he was astonished back then at the access he had his fingertips. Most notably including a computer program that as he put it, could get inside your thought process.
ES: ...look at the haystack.
When I think about an instance that that really just struck me as “oh my god, we can do this” and that we can do it anyone, was that people at NSA, analysts can actually watch people's internet Communications watch them draft correspondence, and actually watch their thoughts form as they type as you write a message. You know, an analyst at the NSA, or any other service out there that's using this kind of attack against people can actually see you write sentences and backspace over your mistakes, and then change the words and then kind of pause, and then think about what you wanted to say,
and then change it.
[19:00] And it's this extraordinary intrusion, not just into your communications, your finished messages, but your actual trafficking process, into the way you think.
BW: You must have been aware spying is sometimes called a dirty business, lives have been taken on unsavory deeds have been committed.
ES: You know, I don't think anybody who, who's been in the intelligence community for almost a decade as I've been, is really shocked by the specific types of general operations, when they're justified.
What's more shocking for anybody, is not the dirtiness of the business, it's the dirtiness of the targeting. It's the dirtiness of the way these things are being used. It's the for lack of respect for the public.
[20:00] Because... and the the lack of respect for the intrusiveness of surveillance.
BW: When the president and others have made the point that you should have gone through channels, become a whistleblower, and not pursued the route you did. What's your response?
ES: I actually did go through channels, and that these documents – the NSA has records they have copies of emails, right now to their Office of General Counsel to their oversight and compliance folks, from me, raising concerns about the NSA's interpretations of its legal authorities. Now I had raised these complaints not just officially, in writing, through email to these officers and and these individuals
but to my supervisors, to my colleagues in more than one office I did it in Fort Meade, I did in Hawaii and many, many of these individuals were shocked by these programs they never seen them themselves, and the ones who had went: “you know you're right, these are things that are really concerning, and these aren't things that we should be doing, and maybe we're going too far here, but
if you say something about this, they're going to destroy you. Do you know what happens to people who stand up and talk about this?”
[21:20] BW What did you report, what was the response?
ES: So I reported that there were real problems with the way the NSA was interpreting its legal authorities, and the response, more or less, in bureaucratic language was, you should stop asking questions. And these are, these are, recent records this isn't an ancient history one of my, I would say one of my final official acts in government was continuing one of these, one of these communications with the legal office and, in fact I'm so sure that these communications exist that I've called on
Congress to write a letter to the NSA, t,o to verify that they do. Write to the Office of General Counsel and say: “did Mr Snowden ever communicate any concerns about the NSA's interpretation its legal
[22:00] BW: Now about that last point there about the paper trail that Snowden says exists within the NSA, so far NBC News has learned from multiple sources that Snowden did indeed send at least one email to the General Counsel's office raising policy and legal questions. We have filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act to look for any other records. And when we continue here tonight the question are the secrets of the US military safe?
ES: I'm a human being, I could make mistakes, I could make the wrong call.
BW: And welcome back as we enter our second half hour as we continue to hear from Edward Snowden part of a wide-ranging conversation taped a week ago in Moscow. We have already heard some extraordinary things but as you'll see he's not done yet
[23:00] ES: I'm doing this to serve my country...I'm still working for the government. Being a patriot means knowing when to protect your country. If I could go anywhere in the world that place would be home.
BW: Edward Snowden's last posting was in Hawaii, there he rented a house where he lived with his girlfriend and performed electronic surveillance for the NSA, it was said he took his last position to gain access to the final documents he wanted to steal and then leak.
BW: How long prior to leaving Hawaii did you start to say to yourself: I'm gonna gather this I'm gonna put this away, I'm going to expose this?
ES: I think given the ongoing investigation, that something better not to get into in a news interview but I'd be happy to discuss these things government.
[24:00] BW: What is the number, what's the closest you've come to estimating the number of documents?
ES: I will say the 1.7 million documents figure that the intelligence community has been bandying about, the director of NSA himself, Keith Alexander said just a week ago and the Australian Financial Times, er, Australian Financial Review, I believe that they have no idea what documents were taken at all their auditing was so poor, so negligent, that any private contractor not even an employee of the government could walk into the NSA building, take whatever they wanted, and walk out with it and they would never know. Now, I think that's a problem and I think that's something that needs to be resolved, and people need to be held to account for. Has it happened before, could it happen again?
BW: What didn't you grab, was there a threshold?
[25:00] ES: Right, I didn't want to take information that would basically be taken and thrown out in the press, that will cause harm to individuals, that would have caused people to die, that would put lives at risk. So a good gauge of what information was provided to the journalists is a representation what you see in the press.
Now if the NSA and Defense Intelligence Agency, and some of these other organizations have claimed
that lives are at risk, that all this military information was out there, that, you know, took all this information about missiles and warheads and tanks. But we don't see any of that in the newspaper, You know, we, we, we haven't seen any stories on that.
BW: Snowden turned over the secret documents to Glenn Greenwald, a lawyer turned journalist and Laura Poitras, a documentary filmmaker, both of whom traveled to Russia for our interview. In his recently published book, “No Place to Hide,” Greenwald describes that moment he first met Snowden in Hong Kong.
[26:00] BW: What did you make of him?
GG: The initial impression was one of extreme confusion, because I was expecting to meet somebody in his sixties or seventies, someone very senior in the agency, because I knew almost nothing about him prior to our arrival in Hong Kong.
ES: It was a really intimidating moment, you know, it was, it was the most real point of no return, because the minute you start talking to a journalist, as an intelligence officer, on camera, there's really no going back from that. That's, that's where it all comes together.
BW: Also you had this tangible evidence, in effect he was saying to you: if I wasn't legit where else would I have gotten this?
[27:00] GG: Right, I mean that, that was certainly a good start to establishing his credibility and his authenticity, was the fact that he was able to produce many thousands of documents from the most secretive agency of the world's most powerful government, but at the same time there are questions about the authenticity of those documents, the providence, the motives that led to his taking them, and what it was that he would say when he, when he identified himself to the world as as the source.
BW: By handing over the documents to journalists, Snowden says he wanted to put some space between himself, and what he himself stole from government computers. He wanted others to break the stories, and do the reporting, and check to see which stories might cause undue harm.
ES: And that's the reason that the journalists have been required by their agreement with me as the source, although they could obviously break that or do whatever they want. But I demanded that they agree to consult with the government to make sure that no individuals or specific harms could be caused by any of that reporting.
BW: That includes NBC News which has reported on its own batch of Snowden documents and has a reporting relationship with Glenn Greenwald.
[28:00] ES: When it comes to specific stories about the specific collection programs, about specific targets, these aren't decided by me. These are decided by newspapers.
BW: You see the part of this and, and for a lay audience looking on, they know that this came from you,
the, the bulk release to the journalists came from you. They are guessing that you and decisions to make within what you had access to. So then they hear you saying: I didn't put that out the journalist did.
ES: Right, now that's a fair question, you know any anyone can second guess my judgment and you know, again I'm a human being, I could make mistakes, I could make the wrong call, but the reality is the situation determined that this needed to be told to the public.
BW: To your knowledge there is nothing in what you've handed over to the journalist, materially damaging or threatening to the military or national security?
[29:00] ES: There's there's nothing that would be published that would harm the public interest, these are programs that need to be understood, that need to be known, that require deep background and the context for research, they're difficult to report but they're of critical public importance.
BW: And just for clarification here, note that Snowden didn't denied turning over military secrets. He asserted instead that they wouldn't be published.
Another break. When we continue, how Snowden justifies what he did.
ES: There've been times throughout American history where what is right is not the same as what is legal. Sometimes to do the right thing you have to break a law.
BW: On the range between ticker tape parade and life sentence, what do you think ought to happen to you, if and when you return to the United States?
[30:00] ES: These are things that no individual should empower themselves to really decide. You know, I'm going to give myself a parade, but neither am I going to walk into a jail cell to serve as a bad example for other people in government who see something happen, some violation of the Constitution and think they need to say something about it.
BW: You hear often in the United States: why doesn't he come home and face the music?
ES: It's a fair question, you know, why doesn't he? Why doesn't he face charges? But it's also uninformed, because what has been lain against me are not normal charges, they're extraordinary charges. We've seen more charges under the Espionage Act in the last administration than we have in all other administrations in American history. The Espionage Act provides anyone accused of it no chance to make a public defense, you are not allowed to argue based on all the evidence in your favor, because that evidence may be classified, even if it's exculpatory.
[31:00] And so when people say: I why don't you go home and face the music, I say you have to understand that the music is not and open court, and a fair trial.
BW: What would you do if you had an audience with the president right now? What would you say?
ES: I would leave I advising the president to his advisers. That a... I wouldn't presume to place myself on the level to be able to suggest what his course of action should be.
BW: Would you ask him if you come home free and clear?
ES: I think that's a decision that he'll weigh and decide based on what he believes would serve the public interest, and I think that's proper appropriate.
[32:00] BW: In your mind though, are you blameless? Have you done as you look at, as you look at this, just a good thing? Have you performed, as you see it, a public service?
ES: I think it can be both. I think the most important idea is to remember that there have been times throughout American history, where what is right, is not the same as what is legal. Sometimes to do the right thing you have to break a law. And the key there is in terms of civil disobedience, you have to make sure that what you're risking, what you're bringing on to yourself does not serve as a detriment anyone else, it doesn't hurt anybody else, and if you're volunteering yourself to be used as a negative example for volunteering to spend a lifetime in prison, rather than to send spend a time in prison, a short period where you'll come out, you'll advocate, you'll emerge stronger and be able to inspire other people to resist these policies. Are you doing good or you doing bad?
[33:00] BW: Legal sources tell NBC News that Snowden's legal team has been in contact with the government's lawyers, but negotiations have not yet begun.
BW: Are you looking for clemency or amnesty, would you like to go home?
ES: I don't think there's ever been any question that I'd like to go home. I mean I've from day one said the I'm doing this to serve my country, I'm still working for the government. Now whether amnesty or clemency ever becomes a possibility is not for me to say. That's a debate for public and the government to decide, but if I could go anywhere in the world that place would be home.
BW: And when we continue, an American in Russia. Edward Snowden talks about what his life is like now in exile, and how he feels about coming home.
ES: I think it's important to remember that people don't set their lives on fire, and burn down everything they love for no reason.
[34:00] BW: This is a big cultural change, you in effect moved to Russia from Hawaii. What is your life like?
ES: You know it's... it is a major cultural gap and it requires adjustment, but even though I didn't choose to be here, even though, you know, circumstances really trapped me here. I can adapt, I can live life as an American, more or less. That's the beauty of the Internet, is that we're no longer tied to our communities merely by, you know, physical connections. Right now I'm watching a show, The Wire [laugh] about surveillance, I'm really enjoying it, the second season's not so great, but....
BW: What do you make of the fact that president Putin's standing in the world, let's say, has changed so dramatically during that time you have been here?
[35:00]ES: It is... it's really frustrating, for someone who is working so hard, to expand the domain of our rights and our Privacy, to end up stuck in a place where those rights are being challenged in ways that I would consider deeply unfair. The recent bloggers' registration law in Russia, I I can't think I've any basis for a law like that, not just in Russia, but in any country. The government shouldn't be regulating the operations a free press whether it's NBC, or whether it's some blogger in their living room.
There's so much that needs to be defended here in Russia but I'm limited by my inability to speak Russian, and so on and so forth... that its it's an isolating and frustrating thing and I really hope
that Russia, the United States, and many other countries will work to push back against this constantly increasing surveillance, against this constant erosion and abrasion of public rights.
[36:00] BW: Correct me if I'm wrong. The arc of your life is you went from signing up for the military after 9/11, in effect, saying you are willing to die for your country, to then telling people you half expected to die via abduction or assassination, after what you've done, in this instance. That's a
pretty dramatic arc since 2003-2004.
ES: I think that's actually a... a solid representation of the dramatic arcs that have happened within our government and the same period. Do you think our nation has changed since September 11? Have our policies changed, has the manner of our government changed? Has civil engagement with the government changed? Have our politics changed? Are things and people radically different in terms of partisanship? There have been radical changes within our government.
[37:00] BW: Do you see yourself as a patriot?
ES: I do. You know, I think patriot is a word that's thrown around so much that it can be devalued nowadays, but being a patriot doesn't mean prioritizing service to government above all else. Being a patriot means knowing when to protect your country, knowing when to protect your constitution knowing when to protect, your countrymen, from the violations of, and encroachments of adversaries. And those adversaries don't have to be foreign countries, they can be bad policies, they can be officials who, you know, need a little bit more accountability. They can be mistakes of government and and simple overreach and things that should never have been tried, or that went wrong.
BW: Did you say earlier you were still serving your government?
[38:00] BW: How so?
ES: When you look at the actions that I've taken, when you look at the carefulness of the programs that have been disclosed, when you look at the way this has all been filtered to the most trusted journalistic institutions in America, when you look at the way the government has had a chance to chime in on this and to make their case, and when you look at the changes that it's resulted in. We've had the first open federal court ever to review these programs declare them likely unconstitutional and Orwellian, and now you see Congress agreeing that massive surveillance, bulk collection needs to end. With all these things happening, that the government agrees all the way up to the president, again, make us stronger, how can it be said that I did not serve my government? How can be said that this harmed the country,
when all three branches of government have made reforms as a result of it?
[39:00] BW: But many in government say Snowden should pay for what he has done, whether or not he comes home.
BW: What do you miss about home?
ES: I think the only... the only I answer to something like that, for someone who's in my situation is, you know, what don't I miss? What would you miss? You know, what wouldn't you miss? I miss my family, I miss my home, I miss my colleagues, I miss the work. Because caught up in all these issues, people have, you know unfairly demonized the NSA to a point that's too extreme. These are good people trying to do hard work, for good reasons. The problem that we're confronted with,
the challenge that we are facing, is not the working level guy is, you know, some... some mustache twirling villain who is out to destroy your life.
[40:00] It's the fact that senior officials are investing themselves with powers that they're not entitled to, and they're doing it without asking the public for any kind of consent.
BW: Is what I just heard you feeling bad for the damage to the NSA as a result of what you've exposed from the NSA?
ES: But what you need to understand in what I was saying.... I guess not what you need to understand but, what I'm saying is not damage to the NSA it's the sort of conspiratorial thinking that can emerge sometimes when we see the Government has committed real and serious abuses, that lead us to think they can do no good, and the government does have legitimate programs and legitimate purposes and they can do great things. The NSA can as well.
[41:00] I think it's important to remember, that people don't set their lives on fire, they don't say goodbye to their families, actually pack up without saying goodbye to their families, they don't walk away from their extraordinary... extraordinarily comfortable lives, I mean I made a lotta money for a guy with a high school diploma, and, and, and, burn down everything they love for no reason.
BW: So you're a kid from North Carolina, and while I, after this interview, am free to fly back to the United States, you can't, does that hurt you?
ES: I think nobody could, no American could, be prohibited from coming home or traveling anywhere else without feeling a sense of loss, but again, I may have lost my ability to travel, but I've gained the ability to go to sleep at night to put my head on the pillow. I feel comfortable that I've done the right thing, even when it was the hard thing, and I'm comfortable with that.
[42:00] BW: A good number of Americans of course feel that because of what they see as an act of treason, they sleep less soundly at night, fearing this massive leak of secrets has endangered the country, and there is more on the way. Glenn Greenwald says the next story he is going to publish based on the Snowden documents may be the biggest yet in terms of impact.
“Snowden on Patriotism”
BW: We talked about metadata in this group, we talked about metadata with Snowden, he makes a larger point here about the information haystack, and about why in his view, big intelligence-gathering doesn't work. I'll play for you now that exchange.
I really meant to.
ES: I take the threat of terrorism seriously, and I think we all do, and I think it's really disingenuous for, for the government to invoke, and sort of scandalize our memories, to sort of exploit the national trauma that we all suffered together, and worked so hard to come through, to justify programs
that have never been shown to keep us safe, but cost us liberties, and freedoms that we don't need to give up and our Constitution says we should not give up.
[1:00] BW: But you can see how it happened. Guys with box cutters spent 200 bucks using our own aviation system to take down our own buildings and smash into the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, what are we gonna do? It's a non traditional enemy, the expression is, an enemy we can't see, what are we gonna do?
ES: You know, and this is a... this is a key question that the 9/11 Commission considered, and what they found in the postmortem, when they looked at all the classified intelligence from all the different intelligence agencies, they found that we had all, all the information we needed, as an intelligence community as a classified sector, as the national defense in the United States to detect this plot. We actually had records of the phone calls from the United States, now the CIA knew who these guys were.
The problem was not that we were collecting information, it wasn't that we didn't have enough dots, it wasn't that we didn't have a haystack it was that we did not understand the haystack that we have.
[2:00] The problem with mass surveillance, is that we're piling more hay, on a haystack we already don't understand, and this is the haystack of the human lives of every American citizen in our country. If these problems aren't keeping us safe, and they're making us miss connections, vital connections, on information we already have, if we're taking resources away from traditional methods of investigation from law enforcement operations that we know work, If we're missing things like the Boston Marathon bombings, where all of these mass surveillance systems, every domestic dragnet in the world didn't reveal guys, that the Russian intelligence service told us about by name. Is that really the best way to protect our country? Or are we are we trying to throw money at a magic solution that's actually not just costing us our safety, but our rights and our way of life?