January 29, 2014, 3:16 pm
Video From Snowden’s German TV Interview
By ROBERT MACKEY New York Times blog
Updated, 8:12 p.m. | In excerpts from an interview with German television made available to The Lede on Wednesday, the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden said that he sleeps well in Russia, where he enjoys temporary asylum, despite reading recently on Buzzfeed that some of his former colleagues in United States intelligence would like to kill him. “I don’t lose sleep because I’ve done what I feel I needed to do,” Mr. Snowden said. “It was the right thing to do and I’m not going to be afraid.”
In another part of the interview, which was broadcast Sunday night on the public television network ARD, Mr. Snowden told the documentary filmmaker Hubert Seipel that President Obama’s proposed reforms to the N.S.A.’s vast surveillance programs constituted just “minor changes to preserve authorities that we don’t need.” He added that while “there’s some politics and some pressure on the president that make it difficult for him to say I’m going to end these” programs, Americans should keep in mind that “the National Security Agency operates under the president’s executive authority alone.”
Mr. Seipel is a veteran documentary filmmaker who interviewed President Bashar al-Assad of Syria last year for German television. He is also experienced in working in Russia and his previous film, “I, Putin,” was an intimate portrait of the Russian president.
Asked how someone of his age and experience had been given such unfettered access to information about the agency’s spying, Mr. Snowden, who is 30, said that his case “highlights the dangers of privatizing government functions.” Even though he once worked directly for the Central Intelligence Agency, he was a private contractor when he assembled the trove of secret documents he provided to journalists last year.
“What that means,” Mr. Snowden said, “is you have private, for-profit companies doing inherently governmental work like targeted espionage, surveillance, compromising foreign systems. And anyone who has the skills, who can convince a private company that they have the qualifications to do so, will be empowered by the government to do that. And there’s very little oversight, there’s very little review.”
As my colleague Mark Mazzetti reports, the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper, insisted during congressional testimony on Wednesday that Mr. Snowden’s disclosures had done grave damage to the country’s security and had led terrorist groups to change their behavior to elude American surveillance. He did not cite any specific examples.
According to the transcript of the interview, Mr. Snowden cited previous testimony from Mr. Clapper, in March of last year, as a prime factor in his decision to leak information to the public about the agency’s work. “I would say sort of the breaking point was seeing the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, directly lie under oath to Congress,” Mr. Snowden said. “There’s no saving an intelligence community that believes it can lie to the public and the legislators who need to be able to trust it and regulate its actions. Seeing that really meant for me there was no going back.”
In an interview via encrypted Internet chat with the New Yorker correspondent Jane Mayer last week, Mr. Snowden mocked such claims by public officials, and the uncritical way they have been reported.
“It’s not the smears that mystify me,” Snowden told me. “It’s that outlets report statements that the speakers themselves admit are sheer speculation.” Snowden went on to poke fun at the range of allegations that have been made against him in the media without intelligence officials providing some kind of factual basis: “ ‘We don’t know if he had help from aliens.’ ‘You know, I have serious questions about whether he really exists.’ ”
He also called claims by American lawmakers that he was a Russian spy “absurd.”
If he were a Russian spy, Snowden asked, “Why Hong Kong?” And why, then, was he “stuck in the airport forever” when he reached Moscow? (He spent forty days in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo International Airport.) “Spies get treated better than that.”
Mr. Snowden insisted to Ms. Mayer that he had no desire to stay in Russia and had done nothing to harm his native country.
From Moscow, Snowden explained that “Russia was never intended” to be his place of asylum, but he “was stopped en route.” He said, “I was only transiting through Russia. I was ticketed for onward travel via Havana — a planeload of reporters documented the seat I was supposed to be in — but the State Department decided they wanted me in Moscow, and cancelled my passport.”
As for why he remains there, he said, “When we were talking about possibilities for asylum in Latin America, the United States forced down the Bolivian President’s plane.” If he could travel without U.S. interference, “I would of course do so.”
Snowden was adamant that he wants to help, not hurt, the United States. “Due to extraordinary planning involved, in nine months no one has credibly shown any harm to national security” from the revelations, he said, “nor any ill intent.” Moreover, he pointed out that “the President himself admitted both that changes are necessary and that he is certain the debate my actions started will make us stronger.”
Mr. Snowden hesitated at some points in the German television interview, saying that he did not want to pre-empt the reporting of journalists who have been working through the large set of documents he leaked last year. One of those points was in response to Mr. Seipel’s question about industrial espionage: “Does the N.S.A. spy on Siemens, on Mercedes, on other successful German companies for example?” Mr. Snowden paused and then replied: “There’s no question that the U.S. is engaged in economic spying. If there’s information at Siemens that they think would be beneficial to the national interests, not the national security of the United States, they’ll go after that information and they’ll take it.”