Keeping a mostly low-profile as a U.S. fugitive in Moscow, former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden has suddenly resurfaced in the media, saying he is confident his personal “mission is already accomplished” and he has “already won” after leaking NSA secrets. The challenge now, he believes, is to stress the importance of privacy and urge an end to mass government surveillance.
Snowden gave a more than 14-hour interview to The Washington Post, which says it’s the first he has conducted in person since arriving in the Russian capital in June. He follows that up by speaking directly to the British public in a televised message that will be broadcast Wednesday as an alternative to the queen’s annual Christmas speech.
Snowden told the Post he was satisfied because journalists have been able to tell the story of the U.S. government’s collection of bulk Internet and phone records, an activity that has grown dramatically in the decade since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
“For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission’s already accomplished,” he said in the interview, which was published online Monday night. “I already won.”
“As soon as the journalists were able to work, everything that I had been trying to do was validated,” Snowden told the Post. “Because, remember, I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself.”
Snowden also gave an insight into his life in Russia, suggesting that he’s not getting out much by being “an indoor cat.”
Now, Snowden will set out why he believes mass surveillance by governments is wrong and note the importance of the debate his disclosures have ignited.
“The conversation occurring today will determine the amount of trust we can place both in the technology that surrounds us and the government that regulates it,” he says, according to excerpts from the message released by Channel 4. “Together we can find a better balance, end mass surveillance and remind the government that if it really wants to know how we feel asking is always cheaper than spying.”
The queen delivers Britain’s “Royal Christmas Message,” but Channel 4 has used its annual alternative version to give a platform to people as diverse as Iran’s then-President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad in 2008, and fictional characters including Ali G. and Marge Simpson in 1999 and 2004, respectively.
In his U.K. message, Snowden calls modern surveillance more invasive than any envisioned by “1984” author George Orwell, saying that children today will grow up without knowing what it means to have an unrecorded or private moment.
“That’s a problem because privacy matters, privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be,” he says.
Snowden was interviewed by the Post in Moscow over two days by reporter Barton Gellman, who has received numerous leaks from Snowden. The interview was conducted six months after Snowden’s revelations first appeared in the Post and the Guardian newspaper.
Gellman described Snowden as relaxed and animated over two days of nearly unbroken conversation, fueled by burgers, pasta, ice cream and Russian pastry.
In June, the Justice Department unsealed a criminal complaint charging Snowden, a former NSA contractor, with espionage and felony theft of government property. Russia granted him temporary asylum five months ago.
The effects of Snowden’s revelations have been evident in the courts, Congress, Silicon Valley and capitals around the world, where even U.S. allies have reacted angrily to reports of U.S. monitoring of their leaders’ cellphone calls. Brazil and members of the European Union are considering ways to better protect their data and U.S. technology companies such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo are looking at ways to block the collection of data by the government.
Snowden, now 30, said he is not being disloyal to the U.S. or to his former employer.
“I am not trying to bring down the NSA, I am working to improve the NSA,” he said. “I am still working for the NSA right now. They are the only ones who don’t realize it.”