In his first American television interview, Edward Snowden defended his disclosure of the American government's use of surveillance programs to spy on its own people, and described himself as a patriot for trying to stop violations of the Constitution.
Snowden met for about five hours last week with "NBC Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams at a hotel in Moscow, where Snowden is living in exile while facing U.S. felony charges. An hour-long special program based on the interview is airing Wednesday on NBC News at 10 p.m. Eastern and 9 p.m. Central.
In the wide-ranging and provocative interview, Snowden suggested that a deal could be reached with the U.S. government for him to come home, said he had tried to go through channels before leaking documents to journalists, and described his transition from enthusiastic supporter of American foreign policy, who enlisted for U.S. Army special operations training during the Iraq War, to a disillusioned intelligence worker who said he came to believe that the government took advantage of the September 11 terror attack to overreach into the private lives of all Americans.
When Williams asked, "Do you see yourself as a patriot?" Snowden answered immediately, "I do."
This story will be updated with full details of the interview, as well as video clips, during the hour-long special.
'Being a Patriot Means Knowing When to Protect Your Country'
Williams: “Do you see yourself as a patriot?”
Snowden: “I do. You know, I — 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 an — 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 — and things that — that should never have been tried, or — or that went wrong.”
Snowden: 'Sometimes to Do the Right Thing, You Have to Break a Law'
Williams: “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?”
Snowden: “I think it can be both. I think the most important idea is to remember that there have been times throughout 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 onto yourself does not serve as a detriment to anyone else.”
Snowden: I Don't Deserve a Parade or Life Sentence
“These are things that no individual should empower themself to — to really decide — you know, ‘I’m gonna 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 happening, some violation of the Constitution, and think they need to say something about it.”
Snowden: Feds ‘Have No Idea What Documents Were Taken’
“I will say the 1.7 million documents figure that the intelligence community has been bandying—about—the director of N.S.A. himself, Keith Alexander said just a week ago in the Australian Financial Times, or 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 N.S.A. 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?”
Snowden: Snoops Show Shocking ‘Lack of Respect for the Public'
“You know, I don’t think anybody who — who’s been in the intelligence community for almost a decade as I have 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 lack of respect for the public — because — and the — the — lack of respect for the intrusiveness of surveillance.”
Snowden on America: 'There Are Some Things Worth Dying For'
“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.”
Snowden: ‘I Take the Threat of Terrorism Seriously’
“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 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 s— 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 — 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.”
Snowden: 'I’ve Never Met the Russian President'
“Right, so I have no relationship with the Russian government at all. I’m — 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.”
First published May 28 2014, 6:44 PM