Edward Snowden: ‘Sometimes to Do the Right Thing You Have to Break a Law’

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Edward Snowden waited a year to give his first interview on American television so there would be "so much to ask him about other than himself," according to his attorney, but much of his chat with NBC's Brian Williams on Wednesday night involved refuting charges made against him by U.S. officials. In the hour-long interview, Snowden insisted he filed complaints with the NSA before leaking documents, and said he didn't take any information that would be "thrown out in the press that would cause harm to individuals, that would cause people to die, that would put lives at risk." And, while Representative Mike Rogers repeated his claim that Snowden is "under the influence of Russian officials" hours before the interview aired, Snowden said, "I have no relationship with the Russian government at all ... I'm not a spy."

Snowden's biggest revelation (aside from the fact that he's watching The Wire and thinks "the second season is not so great") was that he was on Fort Meade, "right outside the NSA" on September 11, and his grandfather was working in the Pentagon. "I take the threat of terrorism seriously, and I think we all do," said Snowden, adding that he finds it "disingenuous" for the government to "scandalize our memories" of that day to "justify programs that have never been shown to keep us safe, but cost us liberties and freedoms that we don't need to give up, and our Constitution says we should not give up."

In 2004, Snowden joined the Army, but he left after breaking both of his legs during training. "There are some things worth dying for, and I think our country is one of them," said Snowden. He explained that he initially believed the government's claims about Iraq, and wanted to do his part. However, as he rose through the ranks in the intelligence community and "saw more and more classified information at the highest levels, I realized that so many of the things that we're told by the government simply aren't true."

As for why he isn't willing to "man up" and face prosecution in the U.S., as John Kerry put it, Snowden says charges against him are "not normal charges, they're extraordinary charges." He noted that the Espionage Act, which he's been charged under, does not allow him to make a public defense or use classified documents to plead his case. "When people say, 'Why don't you go home and face the music?,' I say, you have to understand that the music is not an open court and a fair trial," said Snowden. "There have been times throughout American history where what is right is not the same as what is legal," he added. "Sometimes to do the right thing you have to break a law."

Overall, Snowden took a more conciliatory tone toward the government than he has in the past, possibly because he's still hoping for a plea deal. Snowden resisted Williams's attempts to have him look into the camera and chastise President Obama, and he even had some kind words for the NSA. "People have unfairly demonized the NSA to a point that's too extreme," he said, "These are good people, trying to do hard work for good reasons." Snowden said whether he's offered clemency or amnesty is up to the U.S., but "If I could go anywhere in the world, that place would be home."

Not that he's having second thoughts. "I may have lost my ability to travel, but I've gained the ability to go to sleep at night and to put my head on the pillow and feel comfortable that I've done the right thing, even when it was the hard thing," Snowden said. "I'm comfortable with that."