Edward Snowden declares victory: "I defected from the government to the public"

Edward Snowden granted a 14-hour interview to the Washington Post, commenting on his relationship to the NSA, Russia, and the USA. It's a defiant, uncompromising, and principled interview. He says that his mission has been accomplished, because "I didn't want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself," and that chance has arrived thanks to the sunlight he shone on the NSA's illegal spying activity.

He also says that he's still "working for the NSA" inasmuch as he's taking the only path he could identify to force the agency to conduct its affairs in accordance with the Constitution. And he defended leaking the documents he brought with, because "The oath of allegiance is not an oath of secrecy. That is an oath to the Constitution. That is the oath that I kept that Keith Alexander and James Clapper did not."

To those who say he overstepped ethical bounds by "electing himself" to disclose NSA wrongdoing, he counters that he was elected by the Congresspeople who were nominally overseeing the NSA, like Dianne Feinstein and Mike Rogers, as well as the judges of the FISA court -- that their dereliction of their duties left him with no alternative.

He vehemently denies that he did not attempt to raise the issues of mass spying internally at the NSA, and describes the "front page test" ("What do you think the public would do if this was on the front page?") that he routinely administered to his colleagues and superiors whenever they discussed the scope of spying.

Asked how the US should conduct its spying, he articulates an admirably simple principle: "As long as there's an individualized, articulable, probable cause for targeting these people as legitimate foreign intelligence, that's fine. I don't think it's imposing a ridiculous burden by asking for probable cause. Because, you have to understand, when you have access to the tools the NSA does, probable cause falls out of trees."

Snowden denies defecting to Russia: "If I defected at all, I defected from the government to the public."

Snowden denied having a "dead-man's switch" that would release the remaining leaks if he came to mischief, saying that this would be a "suicide switch" that would invite spies and criminals to torture him to learn its secrets and gain access to the documents themselves. The greatest irony of the interview is that Snowden reveals that the NSA refused to adopt his recommendation that two people should have to sign off on large data-transfers -- a measure that would have prevented him from smuggling so many documents out of the NSA last June.

In the Moscow interview, Snowden said, “What the government wants is something they never had before,” adding: “They want total awareness. The question is, is that something we should be allowing?”

Snowden likened the NSA’s powers to those used by British authorities in Colonial America, when “general warrants” allowed for anyone to be searched. The FISA court, Snowden said, “is authorizing general warrants for the entire country’s metadata.”

“The last time that happened, we fought a war over it,” he said.

Technology, of course, has enabled a great deal of consumer surveillance by private companies, as well. The difference with the NSA’s possession of the data, Snowden said, is that government has the power to take away life or freedom.

At the NSA, he said, “there are people in the office who joke about, ‘We put warheads on foreheads.’ Twitter doesn’t put warheads on foreheads.”

Edward Snowden, after months of NSA revelations, says his mission's accomplished [Barton Gellman/Washington Post]

(Photo: downsized, cropped thumbnail of a picture by Barton Gellman for the Washington Post)