Opinion

Edward Snowden interview: 12 takeaways

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Russia,National Security,NSA,Ashe Schow,Edward Snowden,Surveillance

Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked a trove of documents pertaining to government surveillance, told NBC host Brian Williams that he felt he did the right thing.

The interview was Snowden's first on an American television network, and even though nearly everything he said had already been revealed in reporter Glenn Greenwald's book, No Place to Hide, it was still interesting to watch Snowden himself tell the world what he thinks.

Here are 12 takeaways from Snowden’s interview:

1. Snowden doesn’t think he damaged the U.S.

“If after a year, [the U.S. government] can’t show a single individual who’s been harmed in any way by this reporting, is it really so grave? Is it really so serious?” Snowden said.

Immediately after the interview with Snowden aired, former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul rebuked Snowden's claim, saying that Snowden's revelations damaged American diplomatic relationships with allies, which was in turn damage to the U.S.

Snowden, however, didn’t discount the possibility that his links could harm someone.

“The possibility exists,” Snowden said. “And if this has caused some serious harm, I personally would like to know about it.”

2. Snowden didn't think he'd end up in Russia

Snowden said Russia wasn’t his intended destination, and that he felt “trapped” in Russia.

“I personally am surprised that I ended up here,” Snowden said. “The reality is I never intended to end up in Russia.”

Snowden said he had a flight booked to Cuba and then on to Latin America, but that the U.S. State Department revoked his passport.

“When people ask ‘why are you in Russia?’ I say, ‘Please, ask the State Department,’ ” Snowden said.

But the State Department says it pulled Snowden's passport before he boarded flight to Moscow, although that claim is disputed by the airline.

3. Snowden says he hasn’t given anything to the Russian government

“I have no relationship with the Russian government at all,” Snowden said. “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.”

Snowden said he “destroyed” all the material he had before he left for Russia — which would mean it was destroyed in Hong Kong.

4. Snowden thinks he was a spy for the U.S.

"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.

Snowden also said that the U.S. government was trying to reframe what he did in order to downplay the extent of his training and access.

5. Snowden says he is concerned with terrorism

“I take the threat of terrorism seriously and I think we all do,” Snowden said.

But he thinks the government is being “disingenuous” when it uses the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks “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.”

6. The government could easily misconstrue the data it has on you

Even something as simple as a Google search for a hockey score could be misconstrued when the government collects data, Snowden said.

"You probably speak English. You are probably an American. You are interested in this sport. They might know what your habits are," Snowden said. 'Where were you in the world when you checked the score? Do you check it when you travel? Do you check it when you're at home?”

Snowden said from that the government “could tell your pattern of life,” like when and where you use your phone, when you go to sleep and other phones that are around you when you use yours.

Most disturbingly, Snowden said the government could tell whether you were engaged in activities that it “disapprove[s]” of but is not “technically illegal.”

This is big when considering the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of the Tea Party. If the government has access to everyone's data, they could easily use it to punish those who disagree with the current administration's agenda.

“These activities could be misconstrued, misinterpreted and used to harm you as an individual, even without the government having any intent to do you wrong,” Snowden said.

7. Snowden’s “oh my god” moment

What scared Snowden the most about the NSA was its ability to watch you as you type.

“As you write a message, you know, an analyst at NSA or any other service out there that’s using this kind of attack against people can actually see you write sentences and then backspace over your mistakes and then change the words and then kind of pause and think about what you wanted to say and then change it,” Snowden said.

“And it’s this extraordinary intrusion — not just into your communications, your finished messages, but your actual drafting process, into the way you think.”

8. Snowden says he did attempt traditional means to get the information out

“I actually did go through channels, and that is documented, the NSA has records, they have copies of e-mails 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,” Snowden said.

Snowden said he also raised concerns to his superiors and colleagues at Fort Meade, Md., and where he worked in Hawaii. He was warned that he would be “destroyed” if he said anything.

When he did get an official response from the proper channels it was ominous.

“The response, more or less in bureaucratic language, was ‘you should stop asking questions,’ ” Snowden said.

9. Snowden says he wouldn’t get a fair trial back home

Snowden said that coming back to the U.S. wasn’t really an option because he couldn’t expect a fair trial.

"You are not allowed to argue based on all the evidence in your favor because that evidence may be classified. Even if it’s exculpatory,” Snowden said. “So when people say, 'Why don't you go home and face the music?' I say, 'You have to understand that the music is not an open court and a fair trial.' "

10. Snowden doesn’t want to talk to President Obama

“I would leave advising the president to his advisers. I wouldn’t presume to place myself on the level to be able to suggest what his course of action should be,” Snowden said.

11. Snowden wants to come home

“If I could go anywhere in the world, that place would be home,” Snowden said.

12. He watches “The Wire”

“Right now I’m watching a show, ‘The Wire,’ about surveillance,” Snowden said, laughing. “I’m really enjoying it. The second season’s not so great.”

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