Edward Snowden defended his decision to leak documents about classified U.S. government surveillance programs in a wide-ranging exclusive interview Wednesday with NBC Nightly News, his first with a U.S. television network. Snowden said he is not just a low level systems administrator as previously claimed, and he explained why he remains in Russia while facing espionage charges in the U.S.
Here are five key points from his interview with Brian Williams:
1. He says he was trained as a spy
Snowden, a former NSA contractor, has been referred to as a low-level systems analyst, which he says is inaccurate. “I was trained as a spy in sort of the traditional sense of the word,” he told Williams, “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.
“Now, the government might deny these things,” he went on. “They might frame it in certain ways, and say, oh, well, you know, he’s a low-level analyst. But what they’re trying to do is they’re trying to use one position that I’ve had in a career, here or there, to distract from the totality of my experience.”
2. He says he is a patriot
“Traitor or Patriot?” was NBC’s tagline for the Snowden exclusive, and Snowden insists he is the latter. Leaking information was his way of protecting his country,” he told Williams.
“I think patriot is a word that’s thrown around so much that it can be devalued nowadays,” he said. “Being a patriot doesn’t mean prioritizing service to government above all else. Being a patriot means knowing when to protect your country, knowing when to protect your Constitution, knowing when to protect your countrymen, from the violations of and encroachments of adversaries. And those adversaries don’t have to be foreign countries.
“Doing what is right is not always legal,” he said.
3. He says spy agencies can learn a lot about you from your cell phone
Snowden explained to Williams how spy agencies in the U.S. and abroad can learn a lot about you through your phone, and can control your phone remotely, turning it into a microphone or a camera.
“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 the minute it connects to their network,” he said.
4. He never wanted to end up in Russia
“I personally am surprised that I ended up here,” he said. “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 the Moscow airport.”
5. He does not think he would receive a fair trial if he returned to the U.S.
Some critics have asked why Snowden doesn’t return to the United States to face up to the alleged consequences of his actions. Secretary of State John Kerry told CBS News recently that Snowden should “man up and come back to the U.S.”
However, Snowden says because he was charged under the Espionage Act, he would not have the opportunity to defend himself publicly.
“You are not allowed to argue based on all the evidence in your favor because that evidence may be classified,” he said. “When people say, ‘Why don’t you face the music?’ I say, ‘You have to understand the music is not an open court and a fair trial.’”