NBC became the first American network to air an interview with Edward Snowden, on Wednesday, in a segment entitled “Inside the Mind of Edward Snowden.” Snowden leaked classified NSA documents almost one year ago. In the interview, the American people learned a few facts about the infamous whistleblower: He is an intelligent, eloquent, pretentious, seasoned former systems administrator for many different U.S. intelligence departments; his pastimes include being a patriot and watching The Wire, and he owns exactly two shirts.
Brian Williams, questioning Snowden about a month ago in a Moscow hotel, begins the interview by informing him that “many people would say that you have badly damaged your country,” to which Snowden responds, “Can you show me that?” He implores anyone who can prove that his actions have hurt one person to come forward.
In response to this challenge, Williams reads a statement from former NSA director Keith Alexander claiming that Snowden has done “significant and irreversible damage to the nation” and that there is “concrete proof that terrorists groups and others are taking action and making changes.” Snowden doesn’t bat an eyelash and insists that the “exact same accusations” are “leveled against whistleblowers throughout history.”
More people have accepted Snowden’s challenge and stepped forward. NBC reported that Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, affirmed that Snowden’s leaks had damaged America’s relations with allied countries. “That’s damage to the United States,” McFaul said, “if you’re a patriot, you don’t want to damage our relationships with our allies.”
All of Snowden’s replies are non-answers similar to this one, but throughout the entire interview, I could not shake the feeling that Snowden is pretty pleased with himself. And I do not mean “pleased” in the way he intends when he says that he is “comfortable” because he can “sleep at night” knowing he did the right thing for his country. He seems pleased with himself in a pompous way. He reminds me of a hipster traipsing around Brooklyn, superbly proud of himself for having a dictionary-like knowledge of the different varieties of kale, knowledge he obtained in college while seeking a degree in women’s studies.
While explaining to Williams what became of the leaked documents, Snowden says that he purposefully deleted them after distributing them to journalists. He says selling them would have gone against “everything that I was trying to do.” But Snowden also cites practical concerns, saying he deleted the documents before he entered Russia so that he would not be “interrogated” (read: tortured) by Russian intelligence. In fact, he even says early in the meeting that having the documents on him in Russia would make him look like “Tweety Bird to Sylvester the Cat” — in other words, a huge target for torture.
But Snowden also continually tries to paint himself as a righteous modern-era John Brown, unjustly punished by the U.S. government for taking the moral high ground by freeing Americans from an inherently evil system. Snowden even says, later in the interview, “What is right is not the same as what is legal,” a line he clearly thought up beforehand.
He asserts this faux-righteousness when he discusses his “coming out” in the Hong Kong hotel-room interview that aired a few days after the first documents were leaked on June 5, 2013. He states that he intentionally stayed out of the spotlight immediately after this date. He removed himself from the “mainstream” because he wanted the focus to be on the important issues at hand, not on him. Williams declined to ask the obvious followup question: If you didn’t want the focus on you, why did you come forward at all?
In conclusion, to those who herald Edward Snowden as a whistleblower-god among men, I would say, be careful about what you believe from this guy. Already, people in the know are coming forward to dispute many of the claims Snowden made in the NBC interview, such as his assertion that he has absolutely no connection with the Russian government.
After Snowden proclaims multiple times that he would like to return “home,” Williams asks why he has not returned to “face the music.” Snowden responds that because he would be charged under the Espionage Act, the “music is not a fair trial.” I would think that if Snowden had really leaked the sensitive information for a higher moral purpose, as he claims, then his response would be more only-God-can-judge-me–esque and less “I’m hiding from the police.”
Snowden committed his crime because of an insatiable need to be the center of attention, and he refuses to go back to the United States because of an aversion to being told that he is wrong — two defining hipster characteristics. And if I have learned anything from living in Brooklyn, it’s that hipsters are not to be trusted.
— Christine Sisto is an editorial associate at National Review.