Snowden Declares ‘I Already Won’ in First Moscow Interview

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A protest against government surveillance on October 26, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Between being trapped in Russia, charged with espionage, and somehow deemed less fascinating than a woman who technically isn't running for president, Edward Snowden has definitely suffered some big losses this year. However, in his first in-person interview since arriving in Moscow in June, the NSA leaker tells the Washington Post's Barton Gellman he's pleased with what he accomplished in 2013. "For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission’s already accomplished," Snowden said. "I already won. As soon as the journalists were able to work, everything that I had been trying to do was validated. Because, remember, I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself."

Gellman describes Snowden's new existence as "an indoor cat" as fairly comfortable. He writes that over two days of interviews, Snowden was "relaxed and animated," and aside from conducting their conversations in "a secure space out of public view," there was no evidence that the whistle-blower was trying to hide from intelligence agents – though the reporter notes, "it would be odd if Russian authorities did not keep an eye on him."

And it seems the leaker was up for provoking U.S. officials even further. Snowden claims that he tried to bring his concerns to four superiors and fifteen co-workers, showing them "heat maps" that showed the volume of data taken in by the NSA all over the world. He said many were "astonished to learn we are collecting more in the United States on Americans then we are on Russians in Russia," and some said they were concerned, confirming his belief that others had misgivings about the NSA's operations. An NSA spokeswoman told the paper, "After extensive investigation, including interviews with his former NSA supervisors and co-workers, we have not found any evidence to support Mr. Snowden’s contention that he brought these matters to anyone’s attention."

While defending his decision to leak thousands of secret documents, Snowden named U.S. officials who drove him to action. Gellman writes that when asked about the charge that no one elected him to make decisions on what operations should be made public, Snowden responded:

"Dianne Feinstein elected me when she asked softball questions [in committee hearings] Mike Rogers elected me when he kept these programs hidden. ... The FISA court elected me when they decided to legislate from the bench on things that were far beyond the mandate of what that court was ever intended to do. The system failed comprehensively, and each level of oversight, each level of responsibility that should have addressed this, abdicated their responsibility."

He also denied that he broke an oath of secrecy by violating the classified-information nondisclosure agreement, saying, "That is an oath to the Constitution. That is the oath that I kept that Keith Alexander and James Clapper did not."

The NSA may be surprised to learn that Snowden is still on their side, despite delivering a massive blow that could seriously alter their surveillance operations. "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."