Tonight NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams‘ exclusive interview with National Security Agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden airs. Brian went to Russia to sit down with Edward in his first US media interview. Not only will Edward be appearing but Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who broke the NSA surveillance story in the Guardian will also appear.
For those who don’t know Edward Snowden, he is the man who leaked NSA information that caused worldwide controversy and Snowden has been called a hero, a whistleblower, a dissident, a traitor, and a patriot. Snowden claims his “sole motive” for leaking the documents was, in his ownwords, “to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.” The disclosures have fueled debates over mass surveillance, government secrecy, and the balance between national security and information privacy.
On tonight’s episode get ready for an interview of a lifetime, Brian Williams of NBC News interview Edward Snowden in Russia, a man who’s been titled as a Hero and a Traitor by many.
Tonight’s episode is going to be very exciting, this is an interview that you don’t want to miss so be sure to stay tuned for our coverage of NBC’s interview with Edward Snowden. While you’re waiting for the recap, let us know about your opinion of Edward Snowden; is he a Hero or a Traitor?
Tonight’s episode begins now – Refresh Page for Updates
Brian Williams is in Moscow to talk to Edward Snowden – the man that has been labeled a traitor and a patriot – depending on who you talk to. Brian says he’s called the most wanted man in the world but he got his first American TV interview with the exile. He’s wanted for espionage in the US. Brian says he stole documents and published them exposing programs like Prism and Boundless Informant that are vacuuming up data from wireless carriers, email and more.
Brian says Snowden received no compensation for the interview and there was no question off limits. In response, John McCain has renewed efforts to criticie him. Snowden comes in with just a backpack, alone. Brian says this is the first good look anyone has had of him since Hong Kong. He tells Brian to call him Ed. Ed says that the US has not shown that he has done any damage or any individual that has been harmed by his reporting.
Ed says they can’t trust the claims with no evidence. He says if it has caused harm, he would like to know about it. Keith Alexander has said he has concrete proof that terrorist groups are making changes based on Snowden’s actions and it gave the enemy the playbook. Ed says these are the same accusations against any whistleblowers against government action.
Brian asks what he’s doing in Russia. Ed says he never intended to end up there and was headed for Latin America but then the US government revoked his passport and trapped him in Russia. He says to ask the State Department why they trapped him there. The State Dept says they blocked it before he left Hong Kong. Brian says another official told him if they had a Russian kid in the US like Snowden, they would be working to get information from him.
Brian asks if he’s met Putin and talked to him. Ed says he hasn’t met him and has no relationship with the Russian government. He says he’s not a spy and has received no funding or anything from the government. He says he destroyed all the materials he had on him before he even came to Russia. Brian says it’s hard to believe that Putin hasn’t taken a run at him.
Ed says that the way to think about it is that he took nothing to Russia so he couldn’t give them anything. Brian says if he gave him a latop, could he access the documents. Ed laughs and says no – he says he no access or control over it. Ed says if he looks like Tweety Bird to Russia with all those documents, it’s very dangerous to him.
Brian says a year ago when the story first broke, Snowden was defined somewhat inaccurately. He says Obama called him a hacker and the media called him a systems analyst. Brian asks if he was trained as a spy. Ed says that the US tends to get more and better intelligence out of computers than people and says he was trained as a spy in the traditional sense since he lived and worked overseas in a job and the name he used wasn’t his. He says the US may try to deny it.
Ed says he has worked undercover for the NSA, CIA and Defense Intelligent Agency overseas. He says when they say he’s a low level administrator who doesn’t know anything, that’s misleading. Ed says his life changed with 9/11. He says he was on Fort Meade, MD on 9/11 right outside the NSA and remembers the tension. He says his grandfather was in the Pentago when it was hit and says he takes the threat of terrorism very seriously.
Ed says it’s scandalous of the government to use this national trauma to justify programs that haven’t been shown to keep us safe but take liberties and freedoms the Constitution guarantees. Brian says this attack was non-linear and was like Pearl Harbor. He says they were all hurting and innocent people think they have nothing to hide, so why not?
Ed says a security state prioritizes security over personal liberties and we should not be. He says we should not give away our privacy and rights and have to be an active part of the government and says there are some things worth dying for and he thinks our country is one of them. Brian asks about his military service. He says he joined the Army in 2004 under the special services recruit program. He says he was injured and washed out after breaking both his legs in training.
Ed says he believed the government’s arguments when we went into Iraq and he wanted to do his part. He says that as time went on and he worked at higher levels in the intelligence community and says high level information, so many things the governments tells us is untrue. He mentions the vial of anthrax and weapons of mass destruction lies. He says the Iraq was launched on false premises – he says he doesn’t know if it was bad faith or bad intelligence.
Brian says after 9/11, the government could use our computers to spy on us without our knowledge. Brian shows Ed the phone in his hand – it’s a phone that drug dealers use – a burner phone. He says he used it when he covered the Olympics because he was told the Russians are good at infiltration. Brian asks how good they are and the Russians are.
Ed laughs and says it’s the most expensive burner phone he’s ever seen. Brian has it turned off. Ed says any intelligence service in the world with significant funding and a good tech team can own that phone the second he turns it on. He says they can take your data, use it as a microphone to listen and even take pictures. Ed says that’s usually only done when an individual is targeted.
Brian asks if they can turn his phone on remotely or turn on apps. Ed says yes to all of those. He says that’s scary and says that people don’t think it’s any big deal if you’re looking up the score of a game. Ed says it tells you that you’re American, speak English, like the sport and what your habits are. He says they could tell your pattern of life, when you wake and sleep, what other phones are around you, are you with someone other than your wife, are you where you shouldn’t be and doing something the government doesn’t approve of, even if it’s legal.
Ed says even if you’re doing nothing wrong, these activities can be misconstrued and make you a target. He says the capabilities are unregulated and dangerous. He says he was stunned at the access he had at the NSA and one that revealed your thought process. He says analysts at the NSA can watch your internet communications, watch you form thoughts as you type an email or chat. He says they can see you write, backspace, pause and then change what you’re writing. He says this is extraordinary intrusion into the way you think as you draft things.
Brian says spying is called a dirty business and lives have been taken. Ed says that no one in the intelligence community is shocked about justified actions taken. He says it’s not the dirtiness of the business, but the targeting and the way these things are being used and the lack of respect for the public and the intrusiveness of surveillance.
Brian says Obama says he should have gone through channels to be a whistleblower. Ed says he did go through channels and the NSA has emails he sent to the oversight people, office of general counsel and others about their interpretation of legal authority. He says he did this also to his supervisors and colleagues in Fort Meade and Hawaii. He says many of them were shocked and had never seen these programs. He says many agreed with him but told him they would destroy him if he said anything.
Ed says he reported there were real problems with the way the NSA was using/interpreting its legal authority and the response he got was that he needed to stop asking questions. Ed says he has written to Congress and that we should too to ask them to produce the paper trail. Brian says they have found out that he did send at least one email asking these questions. Brian says they have filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act to release any emails.
Ed says he’s a patriot and is about protecting his country. Brian says Ed’s last posting was in Hawaii and that the government said he took that posting specifically to steal and leak documents. Ed says that give then ongoing investigation, he can’t talk about it here but will talk about it with the government. Ed says the 1.7 million documents they said he took – that Keith Alexander specifically said – he says they have no idea because their auditing and security measures were so poor.
Ed says that’s a problem and he wonders if it happened before and could happen again. Brian asks if there was a threshold where he wouldn’t take information. Ed says he wouldn’t take anything that would put lives at risk and cost people lives. Ed says a good gauge is what he gave the press. He says the NSA says lives are at risk and he took information about missiles and tanks yet there are no press documents showing these.
Brian says Ed turned the documents over to Glenn Greenwald, a lawyer turned journalist and Laura Poitras, a documentary filmmaker that both traveled to Russia for this interview. Greenwald just published a book and Brian asks what he thought of Ed when he met him. Glenn says he was expecting someone older in their 60s or 70s. Ed says it was very intimidating meeting him and the first real point of no return. He says the moment you talk on camera as an intelligence officer to a journalist, you can’t go back.
Glenn says the information he provided was his credibility but there were questions if they were authentic, the provenance and Ed’s motives. Brian says by handing them over to journalists, he wanted to put space between himself and the data he took so others could vet the information to prevent undue harm. Ed says he has an agreement with the journalists that they would consult with the government to prevent specific harm. Brian says NBC has a reporting relationship with Greenwald. Ed says the publication is decided not by him, but by the media.
Brian says the audience knows it came from him and that he had decisions to make. Ed says that anyone can second guess his judgment but the reality is the situation determined that the public needed to be told. Ed says nothing he handed over that would be published that would harm the public interest. He says these programs need to be known and understood. Brian says Ed didn’t deny turning over military secrets but qualified that they would not be published.
Brian asks if he thinks he should get a ticker tape parade or jail time if he returns to the US. Ed says he’s not going to walk into a jail cell and serve as a bad example that would prevent others from whistleblowing. Ed says it’s a fair question why doesn’t he come home and face charges. Ed says the charges against him are extraordinary and that Obama has made more Espionage Act charges than any other administration.
Ed says that under the Espionage Act, you cannot make a public defense, you can’t argue based on the evidence in your favor because it may be classified. He says the music he’s facing isn’t an open court and fair trial. Brian asks what he would says to Obama and Ed says he would leave advising the president ot his advisors. He asks if he would ask him if he could come home free and clear. Ed says that’s what Obama will decide on his own.
Brian asks if he’s blameless – has he done a good thing, a public service. Ed says it can be both. He says the most important idea that in American history, there have been times when what is right is not legal. He says it’s about civil disobedience and what you’re risking doesn’t hurt anyone else and if you’re volunteering to be a negative example, are you doing good or bad?
Brian says that Ed’s legal team have been in contact with government lawyers but no negotiations yet. Ed says he’s always wanted to go home but he can’t say if he’ll ever be offered clemency or amnesty. He says if he could go anywhere in the world, it would be to home.
[10:59:45 PM] Rachel Rowan: Brian says Ed moved to Russia from Hawaii and asks what his life is like. Ed says it’s a major cultural gap that has required adjustment. He says circumstances trapped him there but he can live life as an American there. He says that’s the beauty of the internet – that your communities can be online. He mentions that he’s been watching The Wire online and says it’s about surveillance. He laughingly says the second season wasn’t so great.
Brian asks about Putin’s standing in the world that has changed while Ed has been there. Ed says it’s frustrating for someone working so hard to expand our privacy to end up stuck in a place where those rights are being challenged in ways he considers deeply unfair. He mentions the Bloggers’ Registration law and says the government shouldn’t be regulating the press.
He says not being able to speak Russian limits his ability to discuss these issues. He says he hopes all the governments push back on abridging people’s right to privacy. Brian mentions that Ed said he feared being abducted and killed as a result of his actions. Ed says that his life has taken a dramatic arc but so has the government.
Ed says there have been radical changes in recent years and says he sees himself as a patriot but it’s a word that’s thrown around so much it can be devalued. He says it doesn’t mean prioritizing service to government but knowing when to protect your country and constitution and country men from violations by adversaries that can be foreign, or bad policies, government mistakes or overreaches. Ed says he’s still serving the government.
He says he has been careful and it has all been filtered through trusted institutions and the government has had the chance to respond. He says they have had open court challenges to this and that these policies have been declared Orwellian and that Congress says bulk collection of data needs to end. Ed says if this all makes our country stronger, how could it be said that he harmed the country when all three branches of government have made changes as a result.
Brian asks what he misses from home and Ed says – what don’t I miss. He says he misses his family, colleagues, the work. He says the NSA has been unfairly demonized and says these are good people doing hard work for good reasons but the challenge isn’t the working level guy. He says it’s senior officials that are investing themselves with powers they’re not entitled to without public consent.
Brian asks if he feels bad about damage to the NSA as a result of his actions. Ed says it’s the conspiratorial thinking about real and serious abuses and that the government can do great things. Ed says people don’t set their world on fire and walk away from their lives and a good income for no reason. Brian says he is free to fly back home after this and asks if it hurts Ed that he can’t.
Ed says anyone who travels away from America feels loss. Ed says he may have lost his ability to travel but he can put his head down at night and sleep comfortably because he knows he did right.
That’s the end of the show – but the interview is going on and says they will play some other material on their website now for the next hour.