In an exclusive interview with NBC News aired Wednesday night, Edward Snowden took to the airwaves for his first televised appearance since first going rogue from the National Security Agency on a plane to Hong Kong in June of last year.
In his sit down with NBC’s Brian Williams, Snowden covered a range of topics, including reflections on his actions, his view of the impact since the leaks dropped, and even what his day to day life in Russia consists of.
Being sure not to drop enough details that could get him picked up by the boys in black, Snowden carefully navigated the inquiries of Williams and provided a clearer picture of what it looks like when half the world’s governments want to give you the Nobel Peace Prize, and the other half want to see you rot in a cell until your last breath.
“If I could go any place in the world, that place would be home,” Snowden said almost a year to the day since he revealed a stunning US surveillance dragnet mining data from phones and internet companies.
“From day one, I said I’m doing this to serve my country. Whether amnesty or clemency is a possibility, that’s for the public to decide,” he told NBC in his first interview with US television since the scandal broke in early June last year.
Attorney General Eric Holder has already answered this potentiality by saying that although clemency was completely out of the question, the US and its Justice Department would be open to “engage in a conversation” with the fugitive about his freedom if he were to hop on a plane back home.
He also elaborated further on his role at the NSA, claiming the agency had trained him (a lowly IT contractor at the time of his hire) as a “full-fledged spy”. According to his answer, it was only after the leaks got out did they attempt to downplay his role with the agency in an effort to discredit the information and slander him to pull as much public support for his cause as they could before the story caught like wildfire.
“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,” Snowden said.
“Now, the government might deny these things. They might frame it in certain ways, and say, oh, well, you know, he’s a low-level analyst. But what they’re trying to do is they’re trying to use one position that I’ve had in a career, here or there, to distract from the totality of my experience.”
Snowden emphatically rebuked claims that he had any association with the Russian government or their intelligence agencies, clarifying that he’s never met with President Putin and doesn’t have plans to anytime soon.
The interview also marks the first time Snowden has openly admitted his own guilt, claiming that while he knew what he had done is against the law, he made the distinction that “sometimes in history, doing what’s right, and what’s legal, isn’t always the same thing.”
In defense of that statement, he quickly followed up by calling himself a patriot. He claims that although he was complicit in his crimes, he does not believe what he’s done should earn him a permanent stay in the clink.
“Being a patriot doesn’t mean prioritizing service to government above all else,” Snowden told Williams. “Being a patriot means knowing when to protect your country and knowing when to protect the Constitution against the encroachment of adversaries. Adversaries don’t have to be foreign countries. They can be bad policies.”
Whichever side of the fence you fall on with Snowden, at the very least the facts of the case as it stands can’t be argued. The NSA had gone far too long without anyone speaking out about what they were up to, and had Snowden not done what he did, they likely would have continued without impunity until someone else got up the gall and made the plunge just the same.
Edward Snowden sacrificed his freedom and his safety to inform the public, and to give them the opportunity to really see what their government was up to behind closed doors. Whether his actions were a violation of the 1917 Espionage Act, that’s for the high courts to decide, but if we’re questioning the dedication Snowden had as a person to his country and the people it contains, well…one need not look much further than the 1.7 million documents he swiped off a central NSA server for the answer to that.
Watch the full interview below: