On Wednesday, Edward Snowden sat down with NBC’s Brian Williams for an exclusive, hour-long interview from Moscow. It’s lost on no one that Snowden is one of the most celebrated and reviled figures in world news in the year since he helped break the story about the U.S.’s government’s vast and invasive surveillance activity.
Prior to this NBC interview, Snowden had only appeared at a smattering of events from hotel rooms and “undisclosed locations.” After having seen Snowden only through these secondary screens, there was something powerful about seeing Snowden sitting across from NBC’s Williams and eventually next to Glenn Greenwald, the reporter at The Guardian that broke Snowden’s story. For even those who have followed Snowden this past year and the stories that have unfolded because of what he shared with journalists, this was a rare glimpse into the polarizing figure’s resolve.
Williams asked a range of questions, many of which were expected but still insightful and relevant. We learned that Snowden wants to return home but does not think he can yet given the conditions to which he would be subjecting himself. He does not view himself as a patriot or as a traitor but is proud “all three branches of government” have seen reforms because of the NSA revelations. He says he is not a spy for the Russian government. He wants to emphasize that what the government has said about him is largely not true. He said he cannot just return to the U.S., and engage in public dialogue since he said anyone charged under the Espionage Act "can't argue to the jury that what you did was in the public interest.”
One of the most chilling moments of the interview came as Snowden explained the full extent of NSA’s power to monitor citizens. He said, ”The intelligence capabilities themselves are unregulated, uncontrolled, and dangerous. People at NSA can actually watch internet communications and see our thoughts form as we type. What's more shocking is the dirtiness of the targeting. It's the lack of respect for the public and for the intrusiveness of surveillance.” He described that NSA analysts can see how people’s thoughts “develop.” For instance, they can watch you draft an email, backspace, pause, and revise your communications.
Snowden illustrated this point when Williams asked him why the NSA would care if he checked the final score of a sports game on his phone. Snowden responded, "They'd be able to tell something called your 'pattern of life.' When are you doing these kind of 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?”
If Snowden’s allegations are accurate, the NSA could be watching over my shoulder as I type, edit, and publish this blog post to share with you all and over yours as you comment on this post or tweet the @SumRando account your feedback.
To watch the entire interview, head over to NBC News where they are streaming the interview in multiple parts.