Edward Snowden speaks with Brian Williams in an NBC News exclusive interview.
Edward Snowden speaks.
The bespectacled NSA-leaker, currently living under asylum in Moscow, Russia, gave a wide-ranging interview to NBC Nightly News' Brian Williams on Wednesday night, his first with a major American television network since exposing the country's massive surveillance programs.
Wednesday's interview came after "months of negotiations between NBC News and intermediaries for Mr. Snowden" and "contained its own quotient of cloak-and-dagger activity," according to The New York Times. Ahead of the interview, Williams told theTimes, “What’s going to be most interesting is to see if it moves the conversation or changes any minds.”
Mashable compiled some of the interview's biggest moments, below. For more details,visit NBCNews.com.
On life in Russia
Snowden, who spoke for over four hours with Williams at an undisclosed location in Moscow last week, said he "never intended" to stay there. "When people ask why are you in Russia, I say, 'Please ask the State Department,'" he explained.
"The reality is I never intended to end up in Russia. 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 Moscow Airport," Snowden told Williams.
Perhaps anticipating the remarks, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Snowden to come home and "man up" in an earlier interview Wednesday morning.
On coming home to America
Asked if he wanted to come home, Snowden said, of course.
"I don't think there's ever been any question that I'd like to go home. I mean, I've from day one said that I'm doing this to serve my country. Now, whether amnesty or clemency ever becomes a possibility is not for me to say. That's a debate for the public and the government to decide. But if I could go anywhere in the world, that place would be home."
Was he anxious to be granted amnesty or clemency?
"My priority is not about myself," Snowden said. "It’s about making sure that these programs are reformed and that the family that I left behind, the country that I left behind, can be helped by my actions. I will do everything I can to continue to work in the most responsible way possible, and to prior causing no harm while serving the public good."
Williams also asked Snowden why he won't return to the U.S. Snowden said he wouldn't get a fair trial if he did.
On his role with the NSA
Snowden explained that his role as an NSA contractor wasn't to be a simple, low-level hacker, but a real "spy."
"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," he said during the interview.
Snowden was addressing remarks made by various U.S. officials, including U.S. President Barack Obama, that he was just a hacker or a system administrator. Snowden defined those labels as "misleading."
Snowden and Russia
Williams asked Snowden about his relationship with Russia, and whether he has given anything to the government, which granted him asylum last summer.
Snowden denied having "any relationship" with the Russian government, and explained that even if he wanted to, he couldn't give Russia anything because he no longer has the NSA documents.
"I took nothing to Russia so I can give them nothing," he said.
When Williams asked Snowden if he could log onto a computer and access the documents remotely, Snowden laughed and said, "No, no."
Snowden and 9/11
Snowden revealed that he was at the NSA headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
When the planes hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Snowden said he thought about his grandfather who worked at the FBI at the time and was in the Pentagon during the attack. Although terrorist threats shouldn't be dismissed, Snowden said, they shouldn't be exploited to justify illegal surveillance programs.
"We can't give away our privacy; we can't give away our rights," he said.
Did Snowden go through legal channels before leaking the documents?
When Williams asked Snowden if he had tried going through standard, legal channels to raise his concerns over the NSA's activities, Snowden responded that he did, and that the NSA has paper trails of his attempts to do so.
Snowden, however, added that the response he got was basically that he "should stop asking questions.”
Williams revealed that NBC was able to confirm from "multiple sources" that the NSA has indeed at least one email sent by Snowden to the NSA general counsel in which he asked about the agency's legal authority to conduct its surveillance programs.
On his decision to leak the NSA documents
Snowden said he has no regrets about what he has done, and added that he thinks he is still working for the government, given that the leaks have led to changes in how the NSA programs are seen by the public, U.S. Congress and even the president.
"It's important to remember that people don't set their lives on fire and burn down everything they love for no reason," he said. "I’ve gained ability to go to sleep at night, and feel comfortable that i’ve done the right thing."