Last night, NBC Nightly News’ Brian Williams conducted an interview with former NSA contractor and infamous leaker, Edward Snowden in a Moscow hotel. It was the most high profile interview that he’s given since leaking troves of NSA documents to journalists claiming that they showed the United States is spying on its own citizens. In a wide ranging discussion, Snowden addressed a broad set of topics including just what the NSA can do all the way to why he made the decisions he made as an American citizen and why he believes it was patriotic.
“Sometimes to do the right thing, you have to break a law.
“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.”
“I think patriot is a word that’s — 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 — the violations of and encroachments of adversaries.
When asked why he didn’t seek to go through normal whistleblower channels before fleeing the country and leaking NSA data, Snowden claimed that he did.
“I actually did go through channels, and that is documented. 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.”
“The response more or less, in bureaucratic language, was, ‘You should stop asking questions.’”
The below is a copy of one of the claimed documents.
The NSA has characterized the above inquiry as a request for clarification, not an expression of concern. Additionally, Snowden has been repeatedly characterized in the media as a simple hacker, even by the President. Snowden claimed some bona fides that haven’t previously been heard.
I am a technical expert. I don’t work with people. I don’t recruit agents. What I do is I put systems to work for the United States. And I’ve done that at all levels from — from the bottom on the ground all the way to the top.”
“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.”
“I was trained as a spy in sort of the traditional sense of the word…”
“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… as soon as you turn it on, it can be theirs.”
When asked by Williams if the government could turn on a phone remotely if it’s off, Snowden said “yes.” He answered the same way when asked if they can turn on apps or access Google history.
“They can turn it into a microphone, they can take pictures from it, they can take data off of it.”
Snowden did state that he’d like to return to the U.S. and receive an open, civilian hearing and when asked why he was in Russia stated that he’d originally intended to go to Latin America but that his passport had been frozen upon arrival in the Moscow airport. “Ask the State Department,” he said.
Secretary of State John Kerry, appearing on the Today Show said Snowden should come home and plead his case before the American people.
“If Mr. Snowden wants to come back to the United States today, we’ll have him on a flight today,” Mr. Kerry said. “We’d be delighted for him to come back. And he should come back, and that’s what a patriot would do.”