In an interview with NBC News’ Brian Williams, former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden spoke out about why he is still in Russia, why he believes he is neither a hero nor a traitor, and the extent of the surveillance capability of the U.S. government. After seeing several parts of the interview last night, Glenn could not help but have a more positive opinion of Snowden. On radio this morning, Glenn played parts of the interview and debated Snowden’s credibility.
“I don’t know if you saw Brian Williams’ interview with Edward Snowden last night, but that was one hour of absolutely compelling television. And if it didn’t raise the hair on the back of your neck… nothing will,” Glenn said. “I don’t want to endorse the guy because you never know about people anymore. You just don’t know. But… if I had to choose, based just on the interview last night, [I think he is a] patriot.”
When it comes to why Snowden is in Russia, he explained he never meant to end up in the country. He had booked a flight to Latin America via Cuba, but the U.S. government revoked his passport before he was able to board a plane in Moscow. Furthermore, Snowden said he is not a Russian spy, and he is not working for the Russian government.
Snowden told Williams that he would like to return to the U.S. He misses his family, his friends, and even his job, but he refuses to “walk into a jail cell.”
On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry called Snowden a fugitive and urged him to “man up and come back to the United States.”
“If he cares so much about America and he believes in America,” Kerry said, “he should trust the American system of justice.”
“I will tell you, if I were him, I wouldn’t come home,” Glenn said. “Because I know what this Administration does… to whistleblowers, which is something else he covered last night.”
After being asked why he chose to go about releasing all of the information in the way that he did, Snowden said he attempted to ring the bell within the NSA, but his concerns were rebuffed.
“I actually did go through channels, and that is documented,” Snowden asserted. “The NSA has records, they have copies of emails 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… The response more or less, in bureaucratic language, was, ‘You should stop asking questions.’”
While the NSA claims there is no evidence of a paper trail, NBC talked to “two U.S. officials who have read an email sent by Snowden to the NSA’s Office of General Counsel on April 5, 2013, a month before he stopped working as an NSA contractor, said the message – the only email found to date, they say – questioned agency policies and practices.”
One of the most interesting parts of the interview came when Snowden detailed the capabilities of U.S. surveillance techniques.
“The NSA, the Russian intelligence service, the Chinese intelligence service, any intelligence service in the world that has significant funding and a real technological research team can own that phone… as soon as you turn it on, it can be theirs,” Snowden said. “They can turn it into a microphone, they can take pictures from it, they can take data off of it.”
He did clarify, however, that such surveillance is “typically done on a targeted basis.”
When asked by Williams if the government could turn on a phone remotely if it’s off, Snowden said “yes.” He answered the same way when asked if they can turn on apps or access Google history.
“It was a pretty chilling thing and what people don’t want to think about is the president says that they’re not spying on individuals and that’s not happening. Well, the president has said a lot of things aren’t happening that are happening,” Glenn concluded. “I don’t think NBC set out to make this guy look good… I don’t think the Death Star set out to make Luke Skywalker look like a good guy. But that’s how it came out last night.”
You can watch more highlights of the interview at NBCNews.com.