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Snowden Says His Mission Is Accomplished; 'I Already Won'

Edward Snowden in an image from an October TV report.
AFP/Getty Images
Edward Snowden in an image from an October TV report.

In his first in-person interviews since his explosive revelations last June, "NSA leaker" Edward Snowden tells The Washington Post that in his mind, "the mission's already accomplished."

"I already won," Snowden added during what the Post's Barton Gellman says was more than 14 hours of conversations.

"As soon as the journalists were able to work, everything that I had been trying to do was validated," says the former NSA contractor, who has lifted the veil on the agency's data surveillance programs. "Remember, I didn't want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself."

"All I wanted," Snowden continues, "was for the public to be able to have a say in how they are governed. That is a milestone we left a long time ago."

Snowden, who left Hawaii for Hong Kong shortly before his leaks appeared in the Post and The Guardian and later fled to Moscow, has been in Russia since last summer. He's been given temporary asylum there while he tries to get some other nation to agree to take him in. American officials want him returned to the U.S. to face possible prosecution for espionage and stealing government property.

The leaks about how the National Security Agency collects massive amounts of information about phone calls and Internet activity — reportedly most of the effort aimed at foreigners but including information about many Americans' calls and emails as well — have ignited debate in the U.S. and led to demands for changes in the way the NSA operates.

They've also caused friction with some American allies, including Germany and Brazil, because of reports that the NSA had been monitoring phone calls made by those nations' leaders.

As we reported last week, an advisory panel created by President Obama in the wake of the revelations "has recommended removing the NSA's authority to collect and store Americans' telephone data."

The Post's report includes some details about Snowden's current life. He refers to himself as "an indoor cat" because he rarely gets outside.

And at one point in the account, Gellman writes that Snowden claims he told his NSA supervisors in 2009 that they needed to boost security:

" 'I actually recommended they move to two-man control for administrative access back in 2009,' he said, first to his supervisor in Japan and then to the directorate's chief of operations in the Pacific. 'Sure, a whistleblower could use these things, but so could a spy.'

"That precaution, which requires a second set of credentials to perform risky operations such as copying files onto a removable drive, has been among the principal security responses to the Snowden affair."

According to Gellman, NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said the agency has no record of such conversations.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
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