In a wide-ranging interview with NBC News anchor Brian Williams that aired Wednesday night—his first with a major US broadcast network—Edward Snowden said "the most important idea" for people to remember when considering his actions "that there have been times throughout American history where what is right is not the same as what is legal."
"Sometimes to do the right thing, you have to break a law," Snowden said. "And the key there is in terms of civil disobedience. You have to make sure that what you're risking, what you're bringing onto yourself does not serve as a detriment to anyone else."
"And the key there is in terms of civil disobedience. You have to make sure that what you're risking, what you're bringing onto yourself does not serve as a detriment to anyone else." —Edward Snowden
Challenged by Williams to justify his leaking of highly-classified NSA documents detailing numerous surveillance programs that now "all three branches of government" have acknowledge went too far, Snowden said that he continues to think he did the right thing and for the right reasons.
"I may have lost my ability to travel," Snowden told Williams, referring to his continued stay in Russia due to the suspension of his passport by the U.S. government. "But I've gained the ability to go to sleep at night and to put my head on the pillow and feel comfortable that I've done the right thing even when it was the hard thing. And I'm comfortable with that."
One of the key pieces of news to emerge from the NBC interview and subsequent coverage of the Snowden saga, is that NBC news confirmed that the 30-year-old whistleblower did, in fact, attempt to air his concerns about NSA surveillance through "proper channels" by writing several emails, including at least one to the Office of General Council.
Asked to be specific about his efforts, Snowden said: "I reported that there were -- real problems with the way the NSA was interpreting its legal authorities. And I went even further in this -- to say that they could be unconstitutional -- that they were sort of abrogating our model of government in a way that empowered presidents to override our statutory laws. And this was made very clear. And the response more or less, in bureaucratic language, was, 'You should stop asking questions.' And these are — these are recent records. I would say one of my final official acts in government was continuing one of these — one of these communications with a legal office. And in fact I'm so sure that these communications exist that I've called on Congress to write a letter to the NSA to — to verify that they do. Write to the office of general counsel and say, "Did Mr. Snowden — ever communicate any concerns about the NSA's interpretation of its legal authorities?"
According to Williams, subsequent to these remarks by Snowden (the interview was filmed last week in Moscow), NBC News was able to confirm from government officials "that Snowden emailed the general counsel's office at the NSA with his concerns." The news agency also announced that it has filed Freedom of Information Act requests to determine if there are additional documents that verify or chronicle other communications from Snowden.
NBC has broken the interview into segments and posted them online for viewing.
On civil disobedience: "Sometimes to do the right thing, you have to break a law."
On his motivations: "The definition of a security state is any nation that prioritizes security over all other considerations... I don't believe the United States is or ever should be a security state."
On post-9/11 climate: "I think it's really disingenuous for — for the government to invoke — and sort of scandalize our memories, to sort of exploit the — the national trauma that we all suffered together and worked so hard to come through 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."
On returning home: "I'm not going to give myself a parade... But neither am I going to walk into a jail cell — to serve as a bad example for other people in government who see something happening, some violation of the Constitution and think they need to say something about it."
On patriotism: "With all of these things happening that the government agrees — all the way up to the president again — make us stronger, how can it be said that I did not serve my government? How can it be said that this harmed the country, when all three branches of government have made reforms as a result of it?"
On 'dirty business' of surveillance: " What's more shocking for anybody is not the dirtiness of the business, it's the dirtiness of the targeting. It's the dirtiness of the way these things are being used. It's the lack of respect for the public — because and the lack of respect for the intrusiveness of surveillance."
On 'stealing' from the NSA: "This material was returned to public hands, to the institutions of our free press so that trusted journalists and trusted institutions like The Washington Post, The Guardian, The New York Times could make decisions about what within this is truly within the public interest that can be reported in a way that maximizes the public gains without risking any harm."
On Russia: "I have no relationship with the Russian government at all. I'm -- 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. But I would ask this question, too, you know, I would also be skeptical."
In addition to the hour-long interview that aired on television, Williams hosted an hour-long webcast following the segment which featured additional clips from his interview with Snowden as well as panel discussion about the interview and NSA surveillance. Watch it: