More than a year after Edward Snowden fled to Russia following his National Security Agency leaks, Last Week Tonight’s John Oliver encouraged Snowden to repackage his warnings about the government’s domestic surveillance in a new context: Sexting.
But before that, the interview looked as if it wouldn’t take place. Snowden kept Oliver and crew waiting an hour before he ultimately showed up, causing the host to worry that he had flown all the way to Russia for nothing. “All I’m saying is a 10-hour flight for an empty chair, I’m going to lose my sh*t,” he said at one point.
Once Snowden arrived, “the most famous hero and/or traitor in recent American history” got off to a rough start as Oliver playfully chided his longwinded answer to the simple question of whether he missed the United States. The two went on to discuss Americans’ higher tolerance for foreign surveillance over its domestic equivalent and the security risks associated with Snowden’s leaks to less-equipped journalists, among other topics.
Later, Snowden walked right in to Oliver’s trap as he explained that he thinks his leaks brought to light an important issue the public cares about and is now informed on moving forward. Much to his surprise, Oliver played Snowden a video compilation of people interviewed on the street who did not know who Snowden was or what he had done. The most knowledgeable among them confused him for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
“Not ideal, but on the plus side, you might be able to go home because no one knows who the f*** you are or what the f*** you did,” Oliver gibed. Snowden tried to fall back on the issue’s incredible complexity, launching into a jargon-filled explanation of surveillance technology and policies before Oliver stopped him: “This is the whole problem because I glaze over and it’s like the IT guy walked into your office.”
Oliver’s solution to better communicating the dangers of domestic surveillance programs? Inform Americans that such programs can have access to the lewd pictures they send over the phone or via e-mail. With the help of another video compilation of Americans reacting angrily to this possibility, Oliver appeared to drive the point home to Snowden.
“I guess I never thought about putting it in the context of your junk,” Snowden said.