"Hi," Edward Snowden said. "I'm Ed."
In an exclusive interview with NBC's Brian Williams in Moscow broadcast Wednesday night, Snowden, who likes to be called Ed, said he used to be a spy -- for the United States -- but he isn’t anymore, for anyone.
A bespectacled and highly articulate, quick-witted Snowden told Williams that he has worked as an undercover and overseas spy for both the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. But he stated unequivocally that he currently “has no relationship with the Russian government at all. I’m not a spy.”
His proof? He said he destroyed thousands of classified documents that he leaked to journalists a year ago, before leaving Hong Kong for Russia. Without the material, which he claims he could not access even with a computer, the Russian government is not trying to “break his fingers” or throw bags of money at him to divulge secrets. Simply put, he claims that he is of no use to the Kremlin.
Throughout the interview, Snowden stood by his contention that the information he divulged in the classified documents has not and would not harm any individuals. He did not deny stealing classified documents containing military and intelligence secrets, but rather said “there is nothing that would be published that would harm the public interest.” So far, none of the leaked documents have contained military information, he says. They have focused on the government's pervasive programs of mass surveillance, which his leaks revealed.
The NSA, according to Snowden, can monitor your communications so closely that it can practically watch you think. From any computer or smartphone connected to a network, the agency's software can watch your Internet communications in real time, he claims. With this, it can go “into your drafting process, into the way you think,” he said. Meaning, the NSA can see spelling errors, it can see how you select words, if you backspace, if you spend a while in the middle of a certain sentence pondering how best to phrase your thought. If the NSA wants to watch you write an email, it most definitely can, he says.
These astounding capacities to breach privacy led Snowden to the conclusion that he needed to act, he says. Still, he didn’t seem to take issue with the government’s ability to access such information, but rather the way it is used. “It’s not the dirtiness of the business, it’s the dirtiness of the targeting,” he said, calling it a “lack of respect.”
Williams focused the last half of the broadcast on Snowden’s inability to return to the U.S. and his current life in Russia.
“If I could go any place in the world, that place would be home,” Snowden said. Home, however, is probably the least safe place for him at the moment.
“Edward Snowden is a coward, and a traitor and he has betrayed his country,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday. “If he wants to come home tomorrow to face the music, he can do so.”
But as Snowden put it, “the music is not an open court and fair trial.” Accused of violating the Espionage Act, he would not get a chance to defend himself using any classified documents nor would he be given a chance to make a public defense, he says.
Still, Kerry believes he should return and insists “that’s what a patriot would do."
Snowden believes he is a patriot already. “Being a patriot is knowing when to protect your country, knowing when to protect your constitution and knowing when to protect your countrymen,” he said.
Since he divulged thousands of classified documents he had access to during his tenure at the NSA, Snowden has been living in Russia. He was granted asylum there Aug. 1, but only after 21 countries had denied him and the U.S. State Department revoked his passport.
"The reality is I never intended to end up in Russia," Snowden said in the interview. "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 trap me in the Moscow airport. So when people ask why are you in Russia, I say, 'Please ask the State Department.'"
The State Department insists that Snowden’s passport was revoked before he boarded the plane from Hong Kong to Moscow and yet, for some unknown reason, he was still able to take the flight.